“Creating a Safe Space for the Homosexual in the Church: A Symposium”

If you’re in the Seattle area and you’re not busy this Saturday, August 11 — or even if you think you are busy — you might check out what looks to be a very interesting symposium at the University of Washington on homosexuality and Mormonism. Taylor Petrey is giving the keynote address! Josh Weed will be on a panel! The LDS Church has agreed to read a relevant doctrinal statement! It looks to contain a very diverse set of viewpoints among its varied participants, and I’m intrigued to see how the conversations play out. Here is the agenda. Here is a description of the symposium’s purpose:

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often struggle to adequately address questions related to homosexuality. Although the standard of morality (sexual relations only within the bonds of marriage) is clear, members often do not know how to create a safe space for those who have same-sex attractions.

The Church acknowledges that same-gender attractions itself is not sinful, but “acting on” it is. While this distinction might be satisfying for some, it avoids the larger issue of how mortal experiences fundamentally shape a person’s eternal identity, potential, and destiny. Those who are attracted to the same sex or confused about gender are left in a state of confusion about who they are; they are told they cannot act on what they feel. The advice typically attending “don’t act on it” emphasizes the need to understand our relationship with our Heavenly Father as His children. What does it mean for the gay man or woman to draw closer to Heavenly Father? Do they repress their feelings to draw closer? Do they discount the experiences that come with same-sex attractions? Does the promise of “having all restored” in the next life sufficiently motivate them to remain committed in the Church? What conditions can the Church and its members create to ensure that there is a safe space (emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and socially) in the Church for its homosexual members?

This symposium seeks to explore these questions, and more, in a way that meets the needs of a diverse audience. Leaders of the Church struggle in their pastoral duties with limited experience in counseling members who are attracted to the same sex. Members of the Church often feel helpless as they see their brothers and sisters suffer because of real or perceived loss of safety in the Church. Homosexual members yearn for a connection to the Church while being weighed down at the sight of the greater burden they are asked to bear for membership: sacrificing any hope of a healthy monogamous relationship and future family, as the de facto Church policy of celibacy is put before them.

A dialogue around these issues can identify ways to address these various concerns within the present doctrinal framework. The goal of this symposium is to start a dialogue to address this complex issue with a focus to reach deep within ourselves so that we might begin to see each other as our Heavenly Father sees us. As we collectively wrestle with these questions before God, and as we “study it out in our minds” we can then reach upward to heaven for answers.

The Symposium will take place on August 11, 2012, from 8:30am – 5:30 pm, at Mary Gates Hall 241 on the UW campus.

Looking forward to seeing some of you BCC readers there.


  1. MikeInWeHo says:

    This is happening the same day as the Circling The Wagons conference in San Francisco. Both are focused on the need to create safe space for gay/SSA members.


  2. This does beg the question. How many people are looking for the church to change it’s policy and say that gay sex is okay? Many people who go to these meetings are not interested in the church’s position on this issue or being celibate. They want the church to condone gay sex. Period.

  3. And yes, Ray. I would prefer a safe harbor for anyone who would like to stay close to the church. But beware of sheep in wolves clothing just like any other situation.

  4. I wish they had discussions like this here in NY. I would have loved to attend. I suppose there will be some sort of information that will trickle down to us here at BCC? Anyone?

  5. Henry, most gay men and women I know who are or were members of the church (and their allies) don’t want the church to condone gay sex – they want the church to recognize that a monogamous homosexual relationship can be as fulfilling, uplifting and moral as a heterosexual marriage. Your reducing everything about being gay to “sex” is one of many ways people trivialize and demean gay people.

  6. EOR, I am the only BCC perma who will attend the conference, so I presumably will put up a post about it after the fact. (I doubt I’ll liveblog it — how many people sit in front of their computers on a Saturday?).

    Henry, the answer to the question you’re asking, at least as it pertain to this Conference, is uncertain. That’s part of why I find the Conference so interesting. We will have people with very different views on this question, all in the same room, engaging with each other. That’s not an uncommon occurrence in the Bloggernacle (though maintaining civility is often difficult), but I think it’s less common IRL. I doubt we’ll see a 50/50 split, and I don’t know in which direction it will lopside, but I’m curious to see how it plays out in any event.

  7. “Sheep in wolves clothing” is the best unintended demonstration of the hysterical overreaction of some LDS to the spectre of homosexual affection that I’ve ever seen. Unselfconscious irony FTW.

  8. Aaron thank you, I look forward to it. No liveblogging necessary, ha.

    Brad, agreed.

  9. anonymous, but also gay, Mormon (actually humorous sockpuppet) says:

    Henry’s making me feel extremely safe.

  10. anon, of course you should feel safe. Safe to perpetually loathe your own inner desires, to lead a desperately lonely companionship-free life, and to keep your disgusting queer hands and eyes off of god-fearing, decent, masculine men like Henry.

  11. Brad, I know Henry a little better than most, and he’s a nice guy. He and I disagree about a number of things, but #10 doesn’t describe his views accurately, imo.

  12. MikeInWeHo says:

    I think comment 9 was intended to be sarcastic.

    My initial though was that the Seattle symposium will be attended mostly by people who feel comfortable “within the present doctrinal framework,” (Weed, et. al.), but it’s hard to read Taylor Petrey’s article in Dialogue as anything other than a call to change current doctrine and practice…so who knows. Since I’ll be at the one in San Francisco maybe Aaron B and I can compare notes and write something up for BCC about both of them?

  13. MikeInWeHo that would be wonderful. I know that I would be appreciative at least.

  14. “But beware of sheep in wolves clothing just like any other situation.” Wouldn’t it be wolves in sheep clothing??? ;)

  15. Bryce:
    Monogamous homosexual relationship is gay sex. Church will never condone. It will never happen.

  16. Mortality is short. Too short to encourage others to break the Law of Chastity cutting them off from Heavenly Father if not repented of. If people attending this group feel comfortable with the church’s position, great. And yes, Manuel, you are right, it is wolves in sheeps clothing.

  17. Yankee Sojourner says:

    Yes, folks, you heard it here first! The Prophet Henry has spoken. The Ninth Article of Faith; “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” Even President Monson would agree that that leaves the door open, at least to the open minded.

  18. “Monogamous homosexual relationship is gay sex.”

    No it isn’t, Henry.

    Monogamous heterosexual relationship isn’t necessarily straight sex. If something happened to my wife’s and my ability to engage in sexual activity it wouldn’t change the overall depth of our relationship. My love for her transcends any particular sexual aspect of our relationship.

    We heterosexuals all understand that about heterosexual relationships, if we think about it a little. In that regard, homosexuality is no different than heterosexuality – and that is vitally important to understand.

  19. Oh, and there is a huge difference between intimacy and sexual activity. Too many of “us” don’t make and understand that distinction.

  20. Yankee Sojourner:
    Wishful thinking. It’s not man who is the origin of the Law of Chastity. Man does not have the power to alter it.

  21. Aaron Brown says:

    “It will never happen.”

    Henry, you might be right, and you might not. Honestly, this sort of superlative declaration has no place in a Church with a doctrine or history like Mormonism’s. There may be another church out there whose views on doctrinal rigidity conform more closely to your own. You could totally form an expedition and try to find out …

  22. But I am all for a safe haven in the church. Bottom line.

  23. Henry I am intrigued by your #22. Can you tell us how you see a safe haven playing out?

  24. It would be people who adhere to the churches teachings on this subject. I don’t see a place for the out and proud. The church has no place for the practicing unrepentant homosexual. It would be like a Christian going into an atheist meeting and demanding they change to what they want.

  25. Quickmere Graham says:

    Henry sez: Man does not have the power to alter it.

    Which is why, once women receive the priesthood, it will be properly altered? Henry hath spoken it.

  26. Additional scripture beyond the Bible. Blasphemy.

    Marriage to multiple wives. That would never happen.

    Revocation of marriage to multiple wives. Never happen.

    Giving the priesthood to black men. Not in my lifetime.

    As Aaron said, true–might not ever happen. But continuing revelation has nothing to do with statistical probability, and in fact it eschews the language of probability altogether. Revelation on that level is and has been so very often a lightning bolt out of a blue sky.

  27. I don’t see how your comment at all describes a safe haven. Hmmm

  28. My 27 is a reply to Henry’s 24 btw

  29. Bryce, the only moral problem with a “monogamous homosexual relationship” is the sex. It isn’t meant to trivialize gay people at all. I’m with Henry. Mock all you want, it seems like many want the Church to essentially de-sin sin.

    Can’t help but think of Biblical Israel and their relationship with idolatry. How many times did they condemn their prophets because their prophets condemned what was culturally popular? How many Israelites hoped and prayed that the prophets would get a convenient revelation that the Ten Commandments weren’t really absolute, and that it was now considered okay to bow down to idols? And how many blessings did they lose because of this attitude?

  30. M Dearest says:

    I can’t think of anything more fruitful for as a church than to spend time in one another’s company, listening to all the many ways that individuals experience this and discussing it face-to-face, and perhaps some of us can find a way to make the church a safe place for all us poor sinners. It’s a start, but two symposia are not enough. Please do return and report.

  31. AnonForThis says:

    You know, if you listen carefully to the language used in the temple, the law of chastity as presented in the endowment ceremony does not prohibit homosexual behavior within the bonds of a legal same-sex marriage.

    Further – It’s never been made adequately clear to me *why* homosexual behavior ought to be regarded as immoral or sinful. It’s clear, for instance, that murder is sinful (because it’s basically the ultimate infringement of someone else’s agency), or that adultery is sinful (because it is a breach of trust and can really screw up someone else’s feelings). It’s even clear that drug abuse is sinful (because it is likely to limit your own agency, and it’s more likely that you’ll do bad things to someone else under the influence). But something between two consenting adults who are legally and lawfully wedded? I don’t really understand. If there’s an ethical argument that doesn’t basically boil down to “because we’re pretty sure God said so,” I’ve yet to hear it.

    Anyway – I’m a gay Mormon, and I’ve found a comfortable place for myself in the Church, largely through the vigorous intellectual communities represented and fostered by, for instance, the Bloggernacle, Dialogue, and Sunstone. I’m glad that these voices are being represented in this discussion, because I think they can be both the pressure for and the locus of change of the sort that will make all God’s children feel comfortable inside a religious community that is nominally His.

  32. Peter LLC says:

    But beware of sheep in wolves clothing…
    I don’t see a place for the out and proud.

    Damned if they do, damned if they don’t?

    It would be like a Christian going into an atheist meeting and demanding they change to what they want.

    Sounds like missionary work.

  33. “the only moral problem with a “monogamous homosexual relationship” is the sex”
    Wait, does that mean that couples in a monogamous homosexual relationship can hold hands, kiss, etc. without facing church discipline as long as they aren’t having sex? I’ve been out of the church for a couple of years now, so maybe I missed the change…

  34. It seems to me that the responses regarding married homosexual relationships being entirely acceptable are being disgenuine. Of course there is more to marriage of any kind than sex — but there is also sex. If homosexual sexual relations are inherently sinful, or sinful per se, are those who are arguing that the Church could or should condone homosexual marriage also condone homosexual marriage only without sexual relationships? The notion is absurd on its face. The contrary assumption is that homosexual sex is just like heterosexual sexual relations — not approved of God only if outside the bounds of legal marriage. But that doesn’t seem to really be honest to me either. Homosexual sexual relationships are not approved of God even within marriage — at least that is the position implicit in the Church’s present view that marriage is only between one man and one woman.

    There are also, historically, reasons for viewing homosexual sexual relations as inherently sinful or wrong. If our moral duty is what must be universally true of all persons, as Kant maintained, then no person could reasonably take the position that it is permissible for all persons to engage only in homosexual relations. That would result in the extinction of the race in just one generation. If moral law governing sexual relations is the natural order to insure propagation, then Aristotelian and Thomistic ethics maintains that homosexual sexual relations are contrary to nature — and of course birth control is then questionable as well (as the Catholic Church teaches). if the moral duty is to act so as to maximize the greatest good for society, then it is arguable that protecting heterosexual relationships to foster protection for children naturally born to families is in the best interest of society. If a society allows homosexuals to adopt (and it begs the question to assume that is best for society at least as far as the moral duty issue goes) then the issue is whether there is a duty to prefer heterosexual couples as adoptive parents because it fosters the best family adjustment. In addition, if the purpose of marriage is to foster the growth of children in healthy families then it is arguable to maintain that the law is rational in preferring heterosexual relationships over homosexual relationships–as the New York Supreme Court held and the Federal District Court in Hawaii held just two days ago.

    These are difficult issues, but it isn’t as if anyone who questioned whether homosexual sexual relations even within marriage are acceptable to God are just idiots. The dismissive attitude here toward anyone who disagrees (I’m looking at you Brad) is just unacceptable in civil dialogue. To assume that anyone who disagrees with you is just obviously an idiot and treat them the way they are often treated here is unacceptable and only stifles dialogue one issues where folks can reasonably differ. Perhaps that is why a discussion off of the ‘naccle where others have to actually look in the face of those with whom they disagree will be much more productive than anything on a blog. I see the conference as a good thing — as long as the participants don’t just assume that those who disagree are idiots, bigots, or evil people motivated only by lust.

  35. The line is pretty bright. Eiher you believe homosexual relations is a sin or you don’t. The church seems pretty clear on this. Making SSM legal across the board is not going to suddenly make those in homosexual relationships “okay” with the church. I think, in light of some fundamental doctrine, the probability of the church ever condoning homosexual relationships is extremely remote. However, I never say never:) Making church a safe place is a tougher issue. It’s somewhat analagous to having an open and notorious adulterer. We would consider the adulterer a “sinner,” but how would we handle him or her? Offer a shoulder to cry on, words of comfort? Or would we call him/her to repentance? I know — the difference is that an adulterer is breaking commitments and/or covenants, while the homosexual is not, unless he/she has been through the temple. So, maybe the analogy is better to the heterosexual who openly and notoriously carries on a sexual relationship outside of marriage. How many of those brothers and sister that are openly living together are “comfortable” in the church? Not too many. I don’t think the symposium effort is wasted, but don’t know that it will advance the cause of understanding very far.

  36. it's a series of tubes says:

    Marriage to multiple wives. That would never happen.
    Revocation of marriage to multiple wives. Never happen.
    Giving the priesthood to black men. Not in my lifetime.

    Problem with all these examples with respect to the point you are making – there is historical precedent for each of them, in a prior dispensation of the Gospel. Can you point to any analogous precedent for homosexual sexual relations being previously divinely approved? Not to say it couldn’t happen, but the record seems, well, empty.

  37. AnonForThis says:

    meekmildmagnificent (#34): This is an excellent reply. I don’t agree with all your premises; in particular, I think I could modify your argument by Kant by saying that what must be universally true of all persons is that they should pursue relationships in harmony with their biological attractions, and I could make a similar argument about what the “natural order” is in the case of people with same-sex attraction. Thus, I don’t agree with all your conclusions, but you have made cogent arguments as to why homosexuality might be morally wrong, and I wish people would bother to do this instead of just being like “IT’S YUCKY AND GOD SAID SO.”

  38. Peter LLC says:

    historical precedent

    This only matters if God is subject to time’s arrow, which you have previously argued He is not.

  39. AnonForThis. Thank you. As I said, I think that reasonable people can differ on these issues. They can also disagree reasonably about what Kant or Aristotle meant and whether what he said was reasonable. However, this one seems really important to debate: “what must be universally true of all persons is that they should pursue relationships in harmony with their biological attractions.” It surely would have to be qualified for pedophiles, animal lovers, necrophiliacs etc. (and please don’t extend this to say that I think all homosexuals are pedophiles; I’m not saying that and I don’t believe that it is true). But that very qualification is what would cause problems for any view that would argue it can be a Kantian maxim or categorical imperative.

    Further, “pursuing relationships” would have to be qualified because you surely don’t mean e.g., that everyone who is heterosexual has a moral duty to seek a sexual relationship with all members of the opposite sex — or that if they have sexual attractions they can just have sexual relations with just anyone who consents of the opposite sex because it is in harmony with their “biological attractions.” Any such view just eviscerates any sexual restraint and morality altogether.

    It also seems very reasonable to believe that “biological attractions” are a momentary thing and can change, e.g., in prison environments homosexual activity (and presumably attraction) increases greatly due to access to sexual partners. So do you mean “enduring relationships for stable biological attractions” or something like that? What would a “stable biological attraction” be if not a choice and commitment to a person that endures well beyond mere biological attraction?

    This seems to be a very important issue to discuss to me. It also seems very important to me to create a safe space for both sinners and saints at church — and for homosexuals who desire to be able to maintain a relationship to the faith community despite their sexual desires (which is likely true of the vast majority of heterosexuals as well).

  40. “This only matters if God is subject to time’s arrow, which you have previously argued He is not.”

    Nonsense. God is surely bound by his word given as covenant in the past. Moreover I thought that most Mormons believed God to be temporal — which entails that he is bound by times arrow in the most emphatic sense.

  41. Quickmere Graham says:

    And with that, meekmildmagnificent reveals himself to be none other than Mr. Bleak Oyster!

  42. it's a series of tubes says:

    This only matters if God is subject to time’s arrow, which you have previously argued He is not.

    Peter – I like the throwback reference to fun discussions from the past. I maintain my prior position on that topic :)

    But my point was not directed at whether God could or could not give such a revelation; rather, it was directed to our (admittedly, limited) understanding of how such a revelation would fit vis-a-vis past revelations. The referenced modern examples (beginning or ending polygamy, priesthood restrictions or lifting thereof) were instances where the revelation in question was, historically, NOT the first of its kind. Were a revelation presented announcing same-sex sexual relations as divinely approved, as far as I am aware it would be the first of its kind. Just a point to consider when weighting the potential and scope of such supposed future relevation.

  43. Tubes,

    Since when was historical precedent a prerequisite for revelation? In any case, do the precedents themselves have to have precedents? Or were they for some reason acceptable despite the fact that they were unprecedented? An infinite regress of precedents doesn’t make any sense to me.

  44. Ah, we posted at the same time. I agree that it would be apparently singular and its scope would be considerable, but perhaps no more than when over revelations were a first of their kind.

  45. Jacob: you are surely right that new revelations don’t need past precedent to be supported. However, it also seems rather presumptuous to me to count your revelations and rely on them before they are in.

  46. I wish I could go.

    I think creating safe spaces in the church is important for a number of populations, not just homosexuals. I keep hoping that we will also have safer spaces for survivors of sexual abuse, especially male survivors who have a more difficult time finding space to be open about their abuse, and supported in the trials that can come from it.

    There are many people who are living with their sexual partners, who are not pushed out of the church, if they are heterosexual.

    Going to the temple or taking the sacrament? No.
    Still welcome at ward activities, with their unmarried partner? Yes.
    Have a calling or leadership responsibility? Probably not.
    Have home and/or visiting teachers assigned and encouraged to create closer relationships, if the teachers are allowed? Yes.

    A heterosexual couple generally is encouraged to participate in ward activities, if they want to. Missionaries would teach a heterosexual couple who were living together, and encourage them to get married and join the church. A homosexual couple would either be completely ignored or discouraged from even attending a church activity. Missionaries generally would not engage discussions with someone they knew were homosexual.

    I know it is anecdotal, but I was at a wedding reception where a brother of the bride (she was a recent convert) was told that either he could stop touching his boyfriend, or they would be asked to leave the church building. The transformation from “smiling brothers” to incredibly offended and humiliated men, who left before pictures of the bridal party were taken and did not come back, was pretty instantaneous. She is still a member of the church, but her entire family has refused to come to the blessings of her children, or the recent baptism of her oldest, because of the offense the entire family took.

    If it isn’t safe for someone who is homosexual to come to an important event for a loved one, it is not much of a stretch to say that creating safe spaces is an important goal, no matter how you feel about “gay sex.”


  47. Blake, what can I say, I’m not counting my revelations before they hatch, nor have I said I was.

  48. I very much doubt a change in the percieved ‘sinfullness’ of gay sex will occur on an official level, but there certainly could be a change of policy on how to react to it. When I was a newly called Bishopric member (back in the Cretaceous) the Church was absolutely obsessed with excommunicating people. Even teenagers were being exed for chastity violations. The High Council was busier ‘chopping off heads’ than a bunch of French revolutionaries with a guillotine! Then we got a letter from Salt Lake that basically said to stop it! They said we needed to excommunicate only for the most grievous of offenses, and to use probation or disfellowhipment for almost everything else. It was a softer, more loving approach, and was a huge change in tone and direction. So its totally concievable that the Church could adopt a policy of ‘toleration’ for gays in committed relationships and not excommunicate. I think that axe gets used way too often anyway.

  49. AnonForThis says:

    meekmildmagnificent: And thus we see that I really don’t have any particular training in philosophy other than what I’ve been able to glean from my own infrequent dabbling. :)

    I suppose I’m going for something like “forming enduring/committed relationships within stable biological attractions,” though it’s clearer now that I need to think about exactly what wording to use to describe this. However, iirc, this is close to the argument that Petrey makes: instead of getting hung up on the kinds of sex people are having, it might be more productive to think about the kinds of relationships people are building. This is basically what I’m after, I think. If there’s a Kantian maxim in here, I’d say that it looks something like “build good relationships,” for some value of the word “good.”

  50. Fairsister says:

    Mmmagnificient — Your cogent reasoning is refreshing and sound.
    Anon and others–This point you make that because a “loving and committed” relationship has been established between a man and a man that God’s law of marriage between a man and a woman should/will be changed is not reasonable. The body of law from the Old Testament to the Doctrine & Covenents firmly and explicitly supports man and woman unions only.
    My love and commitment, outside that proscribed union, no matter how valueable to me, doesn’t invalidate the law.

  51. Patricia Lahtinen says:

    Beautifully written, Julia.

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