“Safe Space for the Homosexual” Conference Recap, Part 2

My review of the first two-thirds of the conference is here.  The last third was notable because (1) the LDS Church sent an official representative to make a statement; and (2) the ecclesiastical panel was, in my opinion, the most interesting portion of the program.

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VII.          PERSONAL STORY

                  Moroni Benally, Compassionate Cause co-founder and conference organizer

I missed the first portion of Moroni’s talk, which focused on his coming to terms with his homosexuality as a young boy.  Sorry.

… His Bishop told Moroni that he had two choices:  Stay in the Church and be miserable, or leave and be happy.  He refused to believe this.  He went to Evergreen, but eventually dumped the therapist who said a bad relationship with his father was the source of his homosexuality (a completely inaccurate description of reality in his case).  A BYU bishop told him that to act out sexually would make him a pervert. Later, he was told prayer would cure him, but this didn’t work.  Once in his PhD program, he realized that marriage wasn’t a real option for him.  He received looks of disgust from LDS leaders.  Later, he received confirmation of the need to live a life of celibacy, but this made him angry.  LDS priesthood leaders kept pushing the solution of marriage on him.  Eventually, he severed all ties with the Church and said hateful things to God in prayer, but in doing so, felt an overpowering feeling of God’s love.  He eventually prayed, saying “Heavenly Father, I am gay”.  The response: “Yes, of course you are”.  He confided his struggles to his parents.  They didn’t respond for an entire year. His parents eventually said, “We’ll love you no matter what decisions you make with respect to Mormonism, homosexuality, etc., but please don’t lose faith in God.”  This was the first time he felt love of this sort from his parents.Moroni’s future in the Church remains uncertain, but he’s not angry or resentful.  He feels God’s love for the first time.  All he has now is the decision to be Mormon, one day at a time.  His parents have released him from all expectations.  He acts now for himself.  He’s no longer acting based on the expectations of others.

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VIII.          OFFICIAL DOCTRINAL STATEMENT FROM THE LDS CHURCH

.                  Shoreline Stake President Robert Haynie

The fact that the LDS Church sent an official representative struck me as notable, regardless what the representative actually said.  I’m told that an Area Authority had originally planned to attend and make the statement, but couldn’t because of a scheduling conflict.

Haynie claimed to be attending by assignment from a member of the Seventy.  LDS Church leaders take this subject very seriously.  No recording allowed.  Foundational remarks about the LDS Church were made for any non-LDS in attendance.  “I will quote from apostles and prophets”.  Haynie has had experience counseling LDS churchmembers with same-gender attraction.  He sympathizes greatly.  We all have challenges in life.  He related the story of his recently-deceased sister who never married in this life.  Quoted from the D&C:  “Whether it be by my own voice or that of my servants, it is the same”.  Cited the first paragraph of the Proclamation on the Family.  Quoted extensively from the Public affairs interview with Elders Wickman & Oaks.  Quoted a 21-year-old 1st Presidency Statement on marriage, and sexual conduct as only appropriate within the bounds of matrimony.  Quoted the concluding remarks of Elder Oaks in the Public Affairs interview concerning marriage, the family unit and the need to control same-gender attraction rather than act on it.

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IX.          PERSPECTIVES OF ECCLESIASTICAL LEADERS ON THE NEED FOR SAFE SPACES

                Jared Boundy, Moderator and local Bishop

                Gary London, Stan Hall and Joseph Cutler, all former or current Bishops, Bishops’ counselors and/or high councilmen

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London –

My most dramatic experience with homosexuality was the coming out of my own son. I should have done some things differently. I shouldn’t have told my son, Christian, that this might just be a passing phase in his life. I should’ve taken him at his word. My reaction was an effort not to help him, but to make myself more comfortable.

Hall –

As a Bishop counseling homosexual members I was naive, without prior ecclesiastical experience, which turned out to be a blessing.  We need to see people we counsel as children of God, no different than us.  My having had no training in church hierarchy may have been the best gift I was given.

Cutler –

Anyone in the Church who thinks they’ve got homosexuaity figured out doesn’t know any gay people. My best friend and high school debate partner – who I slept in a bed with for 3 years while traveling for debate – told me my senior year he was gay and had fallen in love with me.  This was the first time he came out to any person. I loved him very much, but I wasn’t gay. I told him so, but also told him I was ok with him. I felt such a strong affinity with him as a person, I wasn’t repulsed by this information. I have another gay LDS friend who moved to NYC, fled the Church, family, everything, but he still believes. What could I have done differently?  It’s important to engage the hard questions early in the Church, rather than avoid them.  LDS priesthood leaders often act like they have the answers that they don’t have. We are presumptuous. We should just love people, which we do know how to do.

London –

Our responsibility isn’t to tell people what to do.  People already know the answers. Our job is to listen to them, to respond in ways that suggest we really are listening, and then to guide them to their answer, to their solution.

Cutler –

I know what it’s like to feel like an outsider as a philosopher, as a Democrat, etc.  It’s OK to say “I don’t know” and to tell struggling members “Don’t you dare leave just because I don’t know”.  People who leave the Church leave me hanging, because “You and I agree on so many things, yet you left!”  Those of us assigned to leadership positions don’t know anymore than the rest of you do, quite often.  But culturally, we expect our leaders to know everything.

Hall –

I have a biological background, everything in life is on a continuum. Bishops, Stake Presidents, etc., are labels that divide us from one another.

London –

“Don’t act upon it” is an exceedingly difficult proscription. It goes against our nature. Yet the doctrine has to be taught by those of us who are ministers. Beyond that, our role is to help people understand through the Spirit what they need to do to feel happy, fulfilled and contented. This may put them at cross purposes with LDS doctrine, ultimately.  If that’s their decision, their inspired decision, then I’ve done all I can do.

Cutler –

Some of us in charge recognize there’s something of an impossible choice posed to you when we teach abstinence and yet we don’t allow same-sex unions. I don’t know why that is. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the next 10 years. I was overjoyed to watch LDS churchmembers march in Seattle.  Not because I’ve made up my mind on “policy”. I have a testimony of the Prophet, and am careful not to criticize those things, but on the other hand, I like it when people build bridges at great personal risk.  We have culture of fear; people are afraid to march because they’re afraid to lose their temple recommends.

London –

Bishops cannot override doctrine or policy, nor should they attempt to do so. But they can encourage inclusive, open, accepting environments in their congregations. Discussion is the antidote to fear. This subject cannot be taboo in the Church any longer. We all need to talk about it. My wife decided she would talk about our son’s homosexuality at every opportunity — unashamedly, unabashedly, even in Relief Society.  This makes others uncomfortable, but we can’t let this be our concern.  Momentary uncomfortableness of other members isn’t a reason to not speak up.  As a Bishop I saw racist attitudes in my ward way back when. We met in general Sunday School for several weeks, combined, and addressed issues of race. Maybe others thought this was crazy, but I thought it was important. Homophobia is a genuine problem in the Church. We could conceivably do something similar for this topic. The Church is hierarchical, but there’s enormous flexibility at the local level for what Bishops can do, especially if they have support from Stake President.

Hall –

Policies are inhuman, not individualized.  They are important, but there’s a danger in institutions — policies become more sacrosanct as institutions get larger and unwieldy, and harm can result. Policies sometimes need to be flexible.  General policies don’t always apply.

Cutler –

I have felt that I need to change the Church from within.

London –

We need to talk about this subject, even in Sacrament Meeting.  We need to make gays welcome at church services.  Many raise concerns about public homosexual displays of affection at church.  What should our response be?  You all need to ask yourselves that question.

Cutler –

We need to develop relationships based on issues other than homosexuality.  The person at my law firm I relate to most is a lesbian attorney with 7 kids, because her life is most like mine.  Find other things to have in common with people, so when the issue comes up, its not divisive.  Why do people care? Why do gay people stay if the environment in the Church is so hostile?  I have had my own struggles (albeit not with homosexuality) and have had to seek my own spiritual experience, like Joseph Smith, to know my place in the Church.  Hopefully, we care because there’s something about the gospel that’s true. The doctrines of the Church are few, but solid.  We’ve created a lot of others around them that are many and mushy.  I hope people are staying because it contains truth, and I want to help.

London –

The core of the gospel is the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Hall –

We all struggle with different things.  The Atonement is what’s most important.

Boundy –

Let’s follow the Spirit — and not just follow policies slavishly — in our interactions as leaders with churchmembers who have struggles. Leaders’ most important interactions aren’t over the pulpit but in one-on-one interactions with members.

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Concluding Remarks.  Change can only happen through dialogue, as difficult as dialogue can be.

Comments

  1. “His Bishop told Moroni that he had two choices: Stay in the Church and be miserable, or leave and be happy.”

    So what do other readers think of this bit of advice? I take it from the way it was presented that this is being used as evidence that Bishops and other leaders were/are not giving gay members a supportive safe space. On the other hand, it was not until he ended up severing all ties with the church (which is what the Bishop advocated) that he found peace with God. Was the Bishop giving Moroni this advice out of love or was it more like ‘leave and (I’ll) be happy’? Personally, I find a Bishop acknowledging that there wasn’t a safe space for him to be in the church WAS important for his journey, even if he refused to believe it and even if the “safe space for the homosexual’ hadn’t been conceptualized and within the lay- bishop vernacular at the time.

  2. MikeInWeHo says:

    Actually I think that Bishop’s advice may have been inspired in the moment. Having known many, many gay Mormons it seems to me that those of us who make a clean break from the Church and establish healthy lives seem to have more joy and success than those who try to stay in. Can’t imagine how painful and distorted my life might have been had I stayed in the Church much longer, gotten married to a woman, etc.

    It’s sad, but that’s sure how it seems from my perspective: The best place for a gay Mormon is outside the Church, but retaining as much of Mormonism as possible from a distance. I do think that may well be changing now, as we can see with people like Mitch Mayne.

    A friend recently said to me: Whatcha gonna do if they ask if you want to come back someday?

    That’s a question I’d love to face.

  3. Seems to me that the bishop was sincerely looking for Moroni’s best interest, instead of the churches (which usually has the goal of keeping members at all costs, even when it is evident that it won’t be productive for either the member or the church). His parents response of ““We’ll love you no matter what decisions you make with respect to Mormonism, homosexuality, etc., but please don’t lose faith in God.” was touching to me- I feel like if I ended up with a gay son and I was still in the church, that’s how I would hope to respond.

  4. KerbearRN says:

    Wow, reading this was nourishing to my soul. And a big “well said” shout out” to both Mike and Jenn. And Mike– I do hope that day is coming soon. I have very dear friends who are in the same place. X

  5. Perhaps, I might interject here. The Bishop’s advice was said quite lovingly and was the product of his counseling with a member of his congregation who killed himself a year before. Though my initial response was anger. Retrospectively, it was kindest thing a priesthood leader has ever said to me. He is now a very close and dear friend continues to stress the “stay in the church be miserable and leave the church and have some semblance of happiness.”

  6. “My best friend and high school debate partner – who I slept in a bed with for 3 years while traveling for debate – told me my senior year he was gay and had fallen in love with me. This was the first time he came out to any person. I loved him very much, but I wasn’t gay. I told him so, but also told him I was ok with him. I felt such a strong affinity with him as a person, I wasn’t repulsed by this information.”

    I think that’s a hugely important anecdote. It represents a significant departure not just from former generations but from the attitudes occasionally on display in the more unapologetically anti-gay corners of the Church. It’s a kind of reflexive disgust at (male) homosexual affection that combines with theological/doctrinal traditions opposing (again, largely male) homosexuality on principle, and the two reinforce and magnify each other—my hyper-masculine disgust at two boys kissing is validated by the book of leviticus.

    I don’t care what you believe about various human behaviors or conditions in terms of abstract moral evaluation; there is something remarkably Christ-like in reaching out with genuine human sympathy and sincere care and even affection to those that your culture or even your strong religious heritage gives you permission to be utterly repulsed by (think lepers, menstruating women, etc.).

    This young man likely did not imagine that his romantic feelings were reciprocated, and had no expectation of returned affection. He probably feared deeply that it would cost him the friendship of the person he so loved to disclose his feelings. It was an act of faith and guts, and his faith was rewarded by a profound act of love from his friend: simply not to hate him, or recoil in disgust, or beat him up, or laugh and mock. Simply to continue to be his friend was a more profound and helpful act of love than returned romantic affection ever could have been.

    No doctrinal status quo entitles us to whatever reflexive disgust we might feel even toward those whose choices we consider sinful. And people who let their basest visceral reactions dictate their attitudes toward others do not get to preach to anyone about putting off the natural man.

  7. Have to admit I was taken aback by the Bishop’s advice to Moroni. As a 25 year old gay Mormon, my experience with local leadership has always been that even when they have a relatively solid grasp on the whole gay issue they attempt to keep you active at all costs. Even members in general tend to act this way. It was a very bold statement for that Bishop to make, and sadly one that I have slowly come to agree with over the past year.

    In the doctrinal statement section I am unclear on what was meant by the sentence, “LDS Church leaders take this subject very seriously.” Was he talking about homosexuality in general, or making the Church comfortable to homosexuals who want to stay?

  8. Moroni:
    But that’s the thing. People who counsel people to steer clear of the gay life/gay sex ultimately have their best interests at heart. When all is said and done and we are all standing there at the last day, do you want someone to point the finger at you and say that you encouraged indulgence rather than repentance? It would seem if a church member encourages others in indulgence rather than repentance, their own exaltation would be joepardized. And Brad, members ARE to preach repentance to the world. Repentance and not indulgence. Prophets and apostles/scriptures always admonish against sexual sin. Now, since there are real human beings dealing with this issue, it is suggested that you work with your bishop and others on this. Everegreen International may work for some and not for others.

  9. I love it when that happens…

  10. Henry, I understand that position – but please understand how horrible Evergreen International has been and is with regard to this issue. All else aside, please understand that. There is a difference between preaching against what we see as sin and beating someone senseless in doing so and destroying their self-esteem – especially by using such a stupid, incorrect foundation as the belief that homosexuality is unnatural and can be cured. The end.

    Thank you for this report, Aaron – and thank you, Moroni, for your comment. This is a complex issue in many ways, but loving others despite differences and allowing those who sin differently than we do to continue to worship with us in love are not complex ideals. We need to have this discussion so badly, and I am grateful to have read the comments from local leaders who appear to understand the “correct principles” at play.

  11. Henry:
    In case you haven’t noticed, or no one has pointed it out to you previously, let me be the first to let you in on a little secret: Implicit in many Bloggernacle comments less dogmatic than yours is a doubt — sometimes held very tentatively, sometimes held militantly, often held somewhere in between — about whether the Church’s historical and current stance on homosexuality really truly represents the will of God in its fullness, destined to reign unchanged forever and ever, unto the end of time. You might as well come to grips with this — no matter how unfathomable you might find it — if you want to understand where people are coming from. Asserting that this can’t be true, and doing so as if its accuracy is self-evident, is unlikely to lead to productive discussion.

  12. Sounds like a great conference. A beacon of hope. Thanks for the summary.

  13. A video of Moroni’s presentation:

  14. Ray:
    There is no gay gene. You do not know that for a certainity that homosexuality is genetic/inborn.

  15. Henry, even the LDS Church itself teaches officially now that many gay people are born with those attractions. When you write the first sentence of #14, you are arguing against the Brethren.

    I sincerely hope you can understand that.

  16. Also, I have no interest in arguing about that, especially in this thread. It only can detract from what the post addresses so well.

  17. I honestly feel a little goosebumpy reading this (the synopsis- not you Henry, I have a different visceral reaction there.) The Church has seemed so STUCK when it came to dealing with gayness- there was no starting place, no inch of traction. This seems like a beginning. Nothing as bold as the priesthood ban lifting but still a place and time that could be fixed in our collective memory as when progress began.
    What brave men and women you are for creating this conference, for speaking all of these amazing stories that had gone unspoken. And I feel huge gratitude and appreciation for the rank and file members that are fighting their lifelong discomfort and fear about gayness and really listening to their gay brothers and sisters in the gospel. Sometimes I just feel exasperated that everyone isn’t already on board, but we all begin somewhere.

  18. I am going to be really disappointed if Henry manages to threadjack another discussion. He’s not even taking what’s being said seriously. He equates an honest admission that the Church is hostile and creates an unhappy environment for gay members with an admonition to go out and have gay sex, a failure in an individual to react with disgust to his friend’s coming out as a failure to preach repentance (for what?), and is attempting to divert the discussion of Evergreen’s methods and conversion therapy in general into an argument over the genetic basis of homosexuality. Why bother responding? He’s reading what he wants to read.

  19. There aren’t single genes for any complex human traits or behaviors. That’s not an argument. But homosexual coupling is found in more than 300 vertebrate species. Reflexive homophobia is found in only one. You sure you want to make bold, sweeping claims about what is and is not natural, Henry?

  20. Henry, thank you for your response. I appreciate the position you hold and even appreciate the godly fear you have. Part of issue with pastoral counseling in the church is that most priesthood leaders have very little knowledge of how “gay” fits into the church doctrine. Often the mistake is made, perhaps unintentionally, that the sum of being gay is only about sex. As the “gay issue” in the Church is framed almost exclusively by law of chastity, hence equating the adoption of the label gay with the intention to engage in gay sex, doing so obviates the lives, ideals, and other contexts that gay men and women live aside from sex. It is the realization, that gays live lives in contexts other than sex, that Bishops, like mine had, that lead them to realize the wisdom of Joseph Smith’s counsel: teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves. But thank you for your position.

  21. I’ve now read Parts 1 and 2 and want to add my cheers and applause. I am glad we are doing more to get going on the collective journey, I’ve been on my solitary one for some time now. I honestly don’t know where we’ll end up, but I want to thank Moroni: you set a beautiful example for me in how to be more productive about it.

  22. I should edit better, but I wanted to be clear that I feel a great hope that we’ll find ways to be more loving and inclusive in our congregations, and honor the second great commandment fully without in any way compromising the first.

  23. Thanks for posting these, Aaron. I found the ecclesiastical panel to be the most interesting as well. (I thought the therapist panel was great too, but I’m biased.) I wasn’t sure what to expect after President Haynie’s comments brought a sort of gloominess to the room, but I was very encouraged by each ecclesiastical leader on the panel. I wanted to cheer after almost every comment (and did after a few of them). It’s so good to see these conversations taking place.

  24. Awesome! Thanks for this, and for your example Moroni. I really hope that the church, both leaders and members, can make progress in welcoming these people into open fellowship with the saints.

  25. Having dealt with this issue in our family for the last 5 years, there is no safe place in the church for someone not willing to be celibate, despite the rhetoric. To quote one of my father-in-laws’ favorite songs, “some kind of help is the kind of help that helping is all about, some kind of help is the kind of the help we all can do without.” In our family’s struggle with this issue, that ditty sums up the “help” we received from the locals.

  26. Holden, the whole point of the conference (I think, i wasn’t there) is to improve – to explore ways to create a culture shift that can help create (and create is a verb, an action, something that has to be undertaken) a safe place. Nobody is making the argument that the church culture as currently exists is gay-friendly. There are always going to be hard-liners who will condemn, because sadly I think some people are hard-wired to feel superiority, but if the numbers of the condemners can be countered by the numbers of the loving and un-judging, we’re closer to being a place where our gay brothers and sisters can feel welcomed and loved. My great concern is that if this sea change is too slow in coming, those loving and un-judging members will keep trickling away from the church and only the hard-liners will remain, creating a tighter and tighter cycle of fundamentalism. I know I’ve been tempted to walk away and become a faithful inactive. I *know* I’m not the only one.

  27. I liked this a lot:

    “My wife decided she would talk about our son’s homosexuality at every opportunity — unashamedly, unabashedly, even in Relief Society. This makes others uncomfortable, but we can’t let this be our concern.”

  28. I really wish there were unbiased reliable ways to track how local leadership handle the question of homosexuality. How many of them advocate marriage as a solution? How many of them take harsher approaches as opposed to more gentle methods? What sort of approaches do members themselves take on this? Someone needs to run a survey on this and publish it in Dialogue or something.

    As a side note – I can’t think that Sacrament Meeting would be a great place to discuss homosexuality, or really any kind of sexuality. Just due to the presence of young children. But a combined RS/Priesthood meeting sounds like a great idea, followed by a presentation by the bishopric to the youth.

  29. Brad at #6

    That is probably the best thing I have read in a good, long while. What you say is axiomatic, self-evident really, but to see it spelled out with words is really powerful.

    Of course, given its axiomatic nature, I’m almost certainly going to steal it and fob it off in some future SS lesson and never give you the slightest bit of credit. So thanks! Or, you’re welcome! Or whatever!

  30. I also thought that the ecclesiastical panel was one of the most interesting/uplifting parts of the symposium and it was interesting to have it right after the official church response, as a contrast. One of the things that I think makes it difficult for gay members to feel like they have a place is that often the focus is on clarification/explanation of doctrine with a small side of expressions of love. I get that the church wants to clarify where they stand on this issue, but the intense focus on that with a hint of love makes the love feel to me like it’s offered at arms length. Just like ScottHeff (#23) said, there was kind of a gloominess that hung in the room after Haynie’s remarks (at least that’s how it felt for me).

    On the other hand, the ecclesiastical panel gave me great hope. It felt like these were men who were not only expressing love but talking about the lengths they have and do go to, to create a safe and welcoming space for gay members. In my opinion they did it in a way that was also respectful of the church and the GA’s. I’ve long felt that so much more could be done to create a more welcome and safe space for gay members without even necessarily needing to think about changes in doctrine. This panel felt like the first time I’ve really seen local leaders attempting to do that. I talked to a few friends afterwards who all said they would love to have bishops like the men who were on that panel.

  31. An interesting postscript re: the official church response vs. the ecclesiastical panel: two of its members–fully half the panel–were from Haynie’s stake, men whom he personally had called to be bishops, high councilors, etc.

    Haynie was specifically invited to give the remarks he did (an official policy statement with no follow-up or Q&A) but it’s interesting how the adversarial vibe listeners got may not represent the situation on the ground in the wards of his stake at all.

  32. Interesting, Ken. I do remember one of them saying he was from Haynie’s stake. I wondered if Haynie’s message would have changed if he hadn’t been there in the capacity he was and if the content of his message had a lot to do with the fact that he was there to officially represent the church’s stance. To me the juxtaposition of the two illustrated a disconnect between the formal approach from the church vs. how it can play out in the trenches.

  33. crazywomancreek says:

    Ken- I don’t think they said or understood the church rep as being “adversarial.” He just bummed them out. That seems so logical and inevitable. I can relate to feeling the optimism of barriers shifting only to be brought back to a harsher, institutional reality.

  34. I’m grateful these conversations are taking place publicly. One hopeful thing I’ve noticed is that younger people (20’s and early 30’s – maybe it’s because that is my peer group) I speak with about these issues are very open to the discussion and reorienting their own opinions in light of the various information that can be found online.

  35. it's a series of tubes says:

    Talking to some co-workers, it appears that quite a lot of content disappeared into the mod queue in this thread. I received an email with the content of one such post, and I can’t see why BCC would elect to bury it. What’s up?

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