LGBT Questions: An Essay

Bryce CookThis week, Bryce Cook published a new comprehensive essay on the church’s stance toward LGBT members. Bryce Cook is a founding member of ALL (Arizona LDS LGBT) Friends & Family and a co-director of the annual “ALL Are Alike Unto God” Conference held every April in Mesa, Arizona. He is married to Sara Spencer Cook and together they have six children, two of whom are gay. Since their oldest son came out publicly in 2012, Bryce and Sara have become public allies for LGBT people in and out of the church.

The essay is a long but fascinating read. I’ll cover a few highlights here, but I encourage you to read it in its entirety for yourself here

History

The essay begins with an overview of the historical statements by various church leaders on the topic of homosexuality. It is easy to demonstrate that positions have changed dramatically as time has increased understanding of homosexuality. He demonstrates clear shifts in the following:

  • Is it a choice? The original stance is that individuals chose to be homosexual through personal weakness or sin. The idea that homosexuality was an innate characteristic is called a “lie” in the most vociferous terms. Current statements show that it is not a choice and that it may be “inborn.”
  • What causes homosexuality? In earlier statements, a child’s relationship to his parents was considered to be the cause of the child’s homosexuality. Current statements console parents by stating that they are not to blame for their child’s sexual orientation. Several parent-blaming statements in a talk by Hartman Rector were removed.
  • Is it curable? Early statements reflect a strong belief that homosexuality could be overcome or changed either through personal effort or heterosexual marriage. Current statements discourage marriage as a way to change one’s orientation. E. Holland even makes the statement that nobody expects someone’s orientation to change.
  • Difference between being homosexual and ‘acting on it.’ The prior stance was that being gay was sin enough. The current stance is that being gay is not a sin but a trial; acting on it is a sin.

Pew Surveys showed that Mormons were becoming more accepting of gay people, a 50% increase in acceptance of homosexuality (from 24% to 36% in 7 years), and at the same time, gay marriage was becoming legal. As a result, the church began to retrench on its positive positions toward homosexuality and our LGBT members. This retrenchment culminated in the Nov. 5 policy to exclude children of gay-married parents from ordinances and to consider any gay-married church members as “apostates” and adding to the psychological pressure faced by LGBT members.

Cook continues by enumerating other areas of change the church has embraced in contrast to earlier held positions:

  • Scriptural positions on women, slaves, suicide, and charging interest on loans that are no longer embraced.
  • Birth control which went from being called “wickedness” by Joseph Fielding Smith to the current statement that it is a private matter between the couple and the Lord and that Church members should not judge one another in this matter.
  • The priesthood and temple ban on those of African descent and the racist statements to defend it were contrasted with its ultimately being questioned and changed despite a long standing tradition.

The rest of the essay pivots on two premises:

  1. Being gay is not a choice.[28] A person’s sexual orientation, or attraction to one sex or the other, is instinctive and innate. It typically begins to manifest at an early age and grows in great intensity with sexual maturation. While the etiology of sexual orientation is not yet fully understood (although there is strong evidence of a biological/genetic component), we have the testimony of countless numbers of gay people – including members of our own church – who have told us that their sexual orientation is innate and not chosen, and that intensive and persistent effort to change it has not succeeded.

  2. Homosexuals are just as capable as heterosexuals of forming committed, love-based relationships with a person they are naturally attracted to. And those relationships can be just as edifying and meaningful as the relationships formed by heterosexual couples. (Note that acceptance of this premise does not require belief that it is acceptable to God.)

Cook asks that the reader who doesn’t personally know many gay people or hasn’t talked with them about their own experience suspend their ignorance long enough to read the remainder of the essay, which includes many first hand accounts from Mormons who are also gay. His focus is on those who are fully homosexual as opposed to bisexual or transgender.

Doctrine

The next section discusses the doctrinal origins of the church’s stance. There is very little in canonized scripture that refers to the modern love-based same-sex relationships developing in our day. Cook explains the context and beliefs behind existing scriptures that do prohibit homosexual behavior.

Modern day teachings on homosexuality are next reviewed, although they are more focused on describing heteronormative relationships, not on discussing those cases in which individuals are attracted to someone of the same sex. Because these documents don’t speak to the homosexual experience except implying it is not “normal” (or the heterosexual norm described), Cook asks if we are certain that we understand God’s will on this subject. Have we sought revelation from the perspective of a gay person or just from a set of assumptions as heterosexuals who believe heterosexual unions are the only way to protect society? He also talks about the oddity of prescribing celibacy, a requirement that the church has often decried in other churches.

Celibacy is the prescribed solution for the question to which we have no revelation. It is not mentioned in the Proclamation. It is not [taught] in the Bible. Neither celibacy nor homosexuality is mentioned in any work of modern scripture… There is no modern apostle or prophet who has expounded on how to live a celibate life. There is no handbook, guide or Church website addressing the subject. It is just expected. It is what you are left with when the commandments leave you nothing else.[41]

Speaking of the old adage from Proverbs 29:18 that “where there is no vision, the people perish,” Cook talks about the lack of vision for homosexuals that has contributed to suicides in the LGBT community.

Cook reviews the church’s main arguments against same-sex marriage:

  • Procreation argument. Gay people can’t procreate, therefore they shouldn’t be allowed to marry. But of course, we all know that many heterosexual couples cannot procreate (due to illness, age, or other factors) but aren’t prohibited from marriage. The church’s stance is also that sex is not solely for the purpose of procreation. Since heterosexuals are allowed to marry without procreation, why not homosexuals asks Cook.
  • Complementarianism argument. This is the idea that men and women have different but complementary traits and roles, and that homosexual unions don’t contain these same differences. Since gay couples don’t experience an inability to form a loving relationship on this basis, speculation about these matters isn’t a very firm foundation to justify the exclusion of homosexuals from companionship and love, especially since individuals of both sexes display a variety of traits–no one behaves like a complete stereotype.
  • Families & Children Argument. The church has cited articles from conservative political sources that oppose same-sex marriage and LGBT rights, but has deliberately ignored the numerous studies and experiences that reach different conclusions. Additionally, if the church opposes gay people raising children, that should be the focus of its opposition, not gay marriage.

Cook mentioned one other important callout, the claim made by E. Wickman in a 2006 interview that homosexuality did not exist in pre-earth life and will not exist after we die. While this may give straight people some comfort that the unfairness in this life doled out to homosexuals is temporary, it can foster suicidal thoughts in homosexuals who believe that they would be better if only their earthly trial would end. This is certainly not an outcome the church should be encouraging, even accidentally through feel-good speculation.

Cook ends the discussion on doctrine with some valuable questions about how certain we are about God’s will. Is our certainty so strong that we can accept the consequences of our statements on the gay community? Or are we speculating on the basis of traditions and biases that we will later regret as we have with other issues?

Cook encourages all of us to follow Pres. Kimball’s example in questioning our own motives and biases in defending positions that harm LGBT church members.

Moral Basis

Cook observes that many of the opponents of LGBT rights focus solely on the sexual aspects of their relationships, not on the loving aspects, and as he points out, it would be equally unfair to judge heterosexual relationships in this way, and yet we manage to avoid that.

He also cautions readers to avoid assuming their instincts and revulsion about homosexual sex are morally right. He compares this to the feelings of disgust that some have held toward interracial marriage or that children feel when they first hear about sexuality. Likewise, the notion of homosexuality feeling “unnatural” is debunked. Heterosexual sex seems “natural” to heterosexuals. Homosexual sex seems “natural” to homosexuals. Celibacy, on the other hand, does not feel natural to either.

The last argument about the moral basis for our position on homosexuality is whether it causes harm or benefit. LDS parents of gay children desire for their children to have stable, committed relationships that result in their wellbeing, just as they do for their straight children.

Empirical Basis

This section talks about the fruits of our policies toward gay church members.

The word “empirical” can be defined as “based on observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.” Jesus advocated this approach in judging whether something was of God when he taught, “by their fruits ye shall know them.”[64] Elder M. Russell Ballard has stated that, “A church, or any way of life, should be judged by the fruits or results that it generates.”[65] Therefore, if the church’s position on homosexuality is based on eternal truth and is morally sound, we would expect that living that way would produce “good fruit,” while being in a same-sex relationship would produce “bad fruit.”

Cook goes on to describe his own experience with gay church members, having two sons who are gay, and helping to found an LDS LGBT support group with over 500 members. He also actively participates in Affirmation, the oldest and largest LDS LGBT organization. His oldest son came out 13 years ago, and he has met and knows personally hundreds of LGBT people.

Cook shares the observed fruits of the church’s stance for gay youth:

Early stages (acknowledging being gay/same-sex attracted)

  • Extreme guilt and self-loathing (even when living church standards)
  • Depression and despair with occasional suicidal thoughts
  • Extreme religiosity and scrupulosity (perfectionism and unhealthy obsession with righteous living and rule keeping in hopes of changing or proving worthiness)

Later stages (realizing sexual orientation isn’t changing)

  • Periods of depression and despair with suicidal thoughts, sometimes leading to suicide
  • Social/emotional detachment, inability to form relationships with others
  • Stagnation, apathy, hopelessness
  • Overcompensation, perfectionism, overachievement
  • Obsessive/compulsive behavior associated with pornography and masturbation made worse by feelings of shame, worthlessness and hopelessness
  • Living in a perpetual cycle of shame trying to suppress innate sexuality and live according to the church’s standards but always falling short (periodic hookups, pornography, etc.)
  • Loss of faith, anger and bitterness against the church and God
  • Vast majority leave the church to preserve emotional and mental health

One of the most powerful aspects to the essay is what follows, a sharing of the personal stories of many LDS LGBT individuals. If you don’t know many gay Mormons yourself, reading these stories will help you to understand their experience in a more profound way.

I’d love to share them all, but in the interest of space, I’ll choose just one:

Jesse

I felt discouraged that I had not changed. My life felt stagnant. Many times I thought of driving off a cliff or into a rock wall, but luckily it was just thoughts that filled my mind on those serene lonely drives. … Over the next five years, I continued to go through cycles of false hope, frustration, and depression: My mind just keeps going in circles … I think I have no hope of marrying, so I get depressed and think I have no purpose in my life, so I think of just ending it now. It would make things so much less painful. Just think of having to endure never being intimate physically or emotionally with anyone. … Every day I am at a crossroad. I am paralyzed to succeed in my life. My procrastination and negative thoughts poison my future. …

I spoke a lot of how my faith in God has waned and that I honestly do not believe in God anymore. I said, “I could not understand how a God with a plan of Eternal Families could put 2-5% of his children down on earth lacking the fundamental key to be able to at least marry.” … I reread a lot of the teachings of the Church, and I realized that the teachings I had been taught about homosexuality were incorrect and were based on false stereotypes. I began to feel betrayed. I finally accepted that being gay did not make me broken. I accepted that I was not innately evil. I realized that if any of the amazing guys that I had been attracted to had reciprocated my interest, then I would have been in a committed monogamous relationship. I had never wanted to live the stereotypical “gay lifestyle” that I had been taught was what gays innately want to “act out.” I knew I wanted and aspired to have the same type of relationship that many straight Mormons desire to have.[74]

The same reasons that heterosexual marriage makes society stronger are the reasons that gay marriage does. Pair-bondings and families strengthen society by giving individuals emotional, financial and physical support when they need it. Marriage helps individuals behave more morally. Preventing gay people from marrying a person to whom they are attracted gives them the damaging message that they don’t deserve stability or support or family, and that they should behave in immoral or reckless ways. Honoring commitments to a partner creates stability and morality and strengthens our society.

The longer this change is in coming, the more people we will lose – not just gay people, but increasingly their family members, their friends and other sympathetic members of the church, particularly younger people, who do not see same-sex marriage as a threat to society or a sin against God. And unlike black people who had the choice of not joining the church during the priesthood/temple ban, gay babies are born into the church every day and at increasing numbers as the church grows. Their departure – along with their families and those who care about them – ultimately harms us as a church more than it does them. It leaves a gaping wound in our church, the body of Christ. And sadly it is our doctrine, not their weak character or lack of spirituality, that is pushing them out.

Cook ends his essay with a plea for courage to ask for further revelation, but also on a hopeful note that we can find the right path.

Comments

  1. May this revelation come quickly. Even if it’s not what I want to hear (which is, go get married and be a family), anything is better than the limbo we live in now. I am grateful Bryce Cook wrote this essay.

  2. Aaron Brown says:

    Sounds like a real tour-de-force, and I look forward to reading it.

    Aaron B

  3. Wow, this is excellent. An important read. Thanks for posting the key points and passages here, Angela. I am so hopeful about where the conversation will go from here.

    The element to the conversation that often bothers me the most, and that I am grateful that Cook points out, is that we demand celibacy from members without providing any narrative or doctrine or advice for how that is supposed to look. For all the specific advice and care and stories and anecdotes we receive on family and marriage life, it’s an awkward lacuna, this idea of the celibate life in Mormonism.

    I also appreciate the way he mentions that it isn’t fair to focus solely on the sexual aspects of gay couples, refusing to acknowledge the love, family, and companionship of gay couples.

    So many important things to talk about here.

  4. A quote from the essay: “While saddened that their children pull away from the church they love, these parents come to realize that they would rather have an emotionally healthy, well-adjusted gay child out of the church than a suicidal, emotionally unhealthy child in the church.”

    Alas, not all parents are like this. One of my parents told me, in no uncertain terms, that if one of their sons turned out to be gay, “[An acquaintance with a recently-out son] is all about accepting people how they are, but I just couldn’t do it. I will never go against the Church, as hard as it would be on all of us. Can you imagine having to introduce your gay son? I wouldn’t do it. I just won’t. I don’t even know how I’d be able to have him over for dinner. It’s a good thing none of my sons are gay.”

    So yeah, things need to change. If you read this, and even if you don’t have a gay son or daughter (that you know of), please oh please don’t say awful things like this. You never know who’s listening. My parents still don’t know about my sexuality. I don’t know if I can ever tell them.

  5. Alpineglow says:

    I am not gay but I am older and single–that part about having no vision surrounding celibacy pierced me. We are soooo bad at providing a narrative for anyone who is not in a templed heterosexual marriage. I have holy envy for the Catholics who have a way to revere those who are celibate and see them as having a God-given mission and purpose. So much healthier (and productive) than pity and “don’t worry, when you’re dead it will all get solved and then you can be normal like me.”

    If we are going to proscribe celibacy for our gay brothers and sisters (and older heterosexual singles), it has to have content. It can’t just be a lack of something. And we must be the family and social support that we (rightly) insist are so important but deny them from having. We have so much work to do, even if there are no doctrinal changes.

  6. I know the Cooks and am impressed by their work. I am hoping and praying that God will continue to nudge LDS leaders and members to make the Church a safe and inclusive place for all of God’s children.

  7. Thanks for the review, Angela – you did a nice job summarizing a very long essay.

    Gay YSA, my heart goes out to you for what you had to hear your parent say. You are right that too many parents still feel this way. The church recently added a new video to its mormonandgay.org website that shows a family who fully loves and accepts their son despite his leaving the church (although they acknowledge some discomfort initially). I really hope this message gains some traction.

    Alpineglow, I can really empathize with you. It feels like we have elevated marriage and family above being disciples of Christ. Being a disciple of Christ does not require being married, but you wouldn’t catch that listening to much of the preaching over the pulpit. My gay son said that if there was a place for single, celibate people in our church – similar to the Catholic priesthood – he would actually be willing to make the sacrifice and stay. But alas, single people have very little status or regard in our church.

  8. Alpineglow says:

    Thanks Bryce Cook. I have found my path and my place. But it takes caring a lot more about what you and God think and a lot less about what others think.

    Gay YSA–I am so sorry. That must be so incredibly painful. My parents have really struggled to know how to relate to my brother since he came out. It’s heartbreaking to see them choose *their perception* of what God wants over a relationship with their son. “The Family” at the expense of their family. I hope we are able to figure this out sooner rather than later. It’s very damaging. In the meantime, sending you an e-hug. For what it’s worth, a stranger on the internet hears you and cares.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    I read the essay last night and thought it was well done and very needed. But it was also quite long, so this executive summary is a real service as well. Thanks, Angela.

  10. Seems to me that the essay buys into some dichotomies that aren’t quite defensible. For instance in the above quotes it sure sounds like the notion of being bisexual is alien to the author. You’re either gay or not and there are no choices. While I’m sure that’s true for some it almost certainly isn’t true for everyone.

    Certainly the church has shifted on this point although that shift goes back quite a ways. (I’ve not read the full essay, I should hasten to add – so forgive me if the author already addresses all this)

    I think it great the church is shifting to fit the evidence. However I’m not convinced any of us know what the answers are here. At a minimum some pretty clear revelations are needed.

    All that said, I think some of the claims of the author are pretty dubious – such as the idea that choosing to be moral immediately leads to positive outcomes. While I think there are fruits to good choices, the idea that in the short term only happy things happens sounds pretty problematic. First it leads naturally into the idea that if we don’t have good fruits we must be doing something wrong. The whole book of Job is basically one extended argument against that idea. But it also leads to a kind of pseudo-Calvinist view that anyone suffering caused their own suffering. Don’t get me wrong I think it an unfortunate view that is present to a dress among many members. So the author is hardly alone. But appeal to “fruits” has to be pretty carefully done.

  11. Angela C says:

    Clark: I would recommend you read the whole essay. I doubtless didn’t do it justice with this brief recap. As I mentioned, though, the essay does not address bisexual or transgender specifically, focusing only on those men and women who are fully homosexual. That’s one limitation of the essay, but it would have been even longer had it delved into those areas.

  12. anonymous says:

    Suppressing part of your sexuality as a bisexual, while not as extreme as doing the same to your whole sexuality, is still damaging. I’ve been a lot happier since I stopped; the difference is really night and day. For me, it’s like I was biting and scratching myself constantly, and after I finally decided to stop, I was able to heal. Bisexuals don’t have more of a choice than homosexuals or heterosexuals do when it comes to suppressing sexuality. The difference is the consequence of the choice is less severe. It doesn’t mean that “evil fruit” isn’t coming from the choice.

    The idea isn’t that moral choices always lead to positive outcomes, it’s that if a certain choice *always* leads to a negative outcome (at least for an individual person) then making that choice is not “choosing the right”. It’s harming yourself. Christ taught that the way to know true from false doctrine is “by their fruits”, and that if a tree yields evil fruit, it is to be cut down and cast into the fire. It’s not the absence of continual good fruit that makes the church’s stance on LGB issues so wrong; it’s the continual presence of very rotten fruit.

  13. Thanks, Bryce. Interestingly you know me in real life, or at least your sons do. Maybe one day I’ll get up the courage to go to your house for one of the meetings.

  14. Bruce Spencer says:

    Well said Brother Cook… as LDS, and a parent of two gay children, I congratulate you on this well defined essay, and the hard work that went into it. And thank you Angela for bringing it to our attention.

  15. D Christian Harrison says:

    Great executive summary, Angela. Thank you.

    And thank YOU, Bryce, for the essay!

  16. Jaramiah says:

    I am an anomaly as a man with same gender attraction that is happily married to a woman. Have been together for almost 2 decades and have great biological children and am living the LDS dream–after years of tasting the way of life that closeted LDS men with SGA are required to work through. Like others in my situation might say, I am a traditionalist. Others will say that I was bisexual all along. I feel there are a great many more men in my situation than there will ever be honest admissions. I do not feel the need to express my artistic side or sensitive side in social settings that are dominant in gay culture. I have plenty of opportunity to use those in the callings I serve and in rearing my children. I see my relationship as eternal and I don’t see myself ever changing where I will want to express my personality in a gay-dominant culture. I’ve tried it. It wasn’t for me. Going to gay events felt like I was in high school all over again and I wasn’t dressing or acting cool enough to fit in. My core is hetero, though the homoerotic button can definitely be pushed.

    Now the “B” in LGBT in these discussions is really excluded from this conversation. I get it though. A group of Ls and Gs and Ts are suffering and there is a great deal of misunderstanding that needs to be dealt with for a heterosexual/gerontocratic majority to learn how that suffering is experienced. If I was going to champion for the “B”–my quest would be for church-sanctioned relationships that allowed the “B” crowd to have BOTH heterosexual AND homosexual experiences so that need for intimacy of both types could be experienced. That is NEVER on the table in these types of discussions–though I suspect THAT is the ‘slippery slope’ argument that church leaders are visualizing to protect families like mine.

    No, I am not championing “open” relationships. I am ‘turning off’ my SGA–as mocked as that option is–and focusing on the covenant I have made, the wonderful intimacy I have in that relationship, and the duty I have to raise my children in a relationship with complete fidelity. What I am enjoying did not come through an easy path, but is a grace. Had the social milieu in which I had been raised me different, my outcome could have very easily been different, but I am ecstatic that I have this result. As the political pressure comes to mock and cheapen relationships like mine, those families that exist now or can exist will become fewer.

    I think Dehlin’s own research indicates only 1 of 4 mixed orientation marriages will survive, but with the national divorce rate at 40-50%, that’s not so bad–and could be better if those marital partners were surrounded by support and strength. Though I don’t oppose asking for revelation in the path that Brother Cook aimed for, I hope that men like me are not found depressed after outing themselves for a gay-dominant culture that doesn’t satisfy.

  17. Thank you Bro Cook. A thorough and thought provoking essay and one with heart.
    Am I right in fearing that if and when elder Nelson is called as President he won’t be overly sympathetic to change.

  18. I also extend my thanks to Bro. Cook. Your article is a great summary of issues that I have wrestled with over the years. My conclusions and judgments largely mirror yours. Your article is a great resource that I will rely on in the future.

    If I may add one item to the discussion, I find it very helpful to focus on Christ’s role in discussing the true meaning of parenthood, families and children. Our church’s focus – at least recently – has been on parenthood as procreation. But the scriptures bear clear testimony that Christ is our Father despite having no procreative role. If He is our ultimate example of fatherhood, and He is not a procreative father, then surely we can find a way to include our LGBT brothers and sisters – married or single – within the true definition of parenthood and families.

    In my judgement, our focus should be on ‘creation’ rather than one limited subpart of creation that we call ‘procreation.’ Creation includes *all* aspects of sacrifice and example in which a parent-figure condescends in order to provide a path for exalting another. Yes, child bearing is certainly a prime example of this sacrifice; I’ve joyed in sharing that experience with my wife for each of our children. But there are so many other avenues whereby a father or mother nurtures, provides, protects, and directs a child regardless of whether they are connected in a family 4-generation chart.

    I am grateful for all the fathers and mothers that have sacrificed to raise me: my own birth parents, yes; but also my in-laws, teachers, scout leaders, church leaders, career mentors, and many many others. Some of these people have been married, some not. Some are heterosexual, some not. All are my parents as they point me to Christ.

    As Sherri Dew taught, all women are mothers even if they do not bear children. I don’t recall her excluding non-heterosexual women from that conclusion. The same holds true for men. Parenthood is a role that does not require any procreative connection. If it were otherwise, Christ could not be our Father.

  19. I think we’re looking beyond the mark in trying to find who to blame for depression rather than removing the stigma and helping those with depression. It’s very easy to find someone or something to blame for our depression and difficulties, but much harder to accept our crosses and move forward. It’s easy to say, “if only they did/didn’t do -this-, then I’d be happier”, but much, much harder to find and get help for what we can affect in ourselves. Rather than concentrate on what the Church should change, we’d be better off concentrating on how we can help each other within the lives we have.

    I have my own battles with physical, mental, and LGBT disabilities. I’ll not go into further detail as I’m not ready to declare them to the world, nor should I need to. I’ve been through many times of begging that they could be taken away or wishing I could just die and have it resolved at times strong enough to even have concrete plans to make it happen. There is no path in these for me other than through, living with what I have as part of who I am until the next life when I will learn how that merges with who I was before this life.

  20. I’ve been thinking about Alipineglow’s comment from a couple of days ago, about how if the Church requires celibacy then it needs to have content. Does LDS theology have anything to offer here? Catholic theology supports clerical celibacy in that people in those vocations are considered married to Christ, but LDS theology isn’t compatible with that because heterosexual marriage is required for salvation.

    The Church has painted itself into a corner by elevating marriage and family so much, doctrinally and culturally. This juvenilizes single people, and I can’t think of a way out of that other than demoting marriage and family to a feature of mortality, rather than the culmination of salvation and exaltation. Or maybe demoting it to a feature of salvation and exaltation, but not the essence of it.

  21. Why should the Church offer anything as a balm for celibacy? Lots of people, for a lot of reasons (even some who are married) are celibate. I think we do everyone a disservice when we talk like peoples lives are poorer if they never have sex.

  22. I’ve been thinking about this a lot too. I don’t know that ‘balm’ is the right word. I’d say it is ‘purpose.’

    I don’t think its about sex either. It’s about being tied (sealed) in a committed relationship.

  23. Celibacy isn’t just about sex. Celibacy requires much more: never forming an intimate marriage bond, never having anybody who has your back no matter what, never having children. It means coming home to an empty house, decade after decade. It means facing questions like, “Why aren’t you married” for the rest of your life. It means knowing that members of your ward whisper about you behind your back: is he a pervert? Is he divorced? Should we trust our kids around him (better not! Don’t want to risk it!)? Could he be *gay*???

    Celibacy means you never get to serve in the temple after age 30, or go on another mission with the companion of your choice. Celibacy means never holding your little baby’s hand as she learns to walk. Celibacy means wondering who will take care of you when you’re old. Celibacy means going on vacations by yourself, decade after decade. Celibacy means sitting around on the weekends, with nothing to do and nobody to do it with–all your friends are with their families. Celibacy means wondering who will notice if you choke on your food and die tonight. Celibacy means craving human touch. Celibacy means dreading the day your parents die, because who will you cry with after going home following the funeral? Celibacy means wondering if anybody will remember you.

    Celibacy inside the Church means living around happy families, who compliment you for your faithfulness, but you wonder if they really mean it because their Facebook posts seem to tell the opposite story.

    Celibacy means so much more than an abstention from sex. It’s an abstention from love, too.

    Of course there needs to be a balm for celibacy.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    I think a little empathy would go a long way. A woman I know once arranged a meeting with her bishop. She was long divorced, and she told the bishop in extreme frustration “I haven’t had sex in eight years!” The bishop got a deer in the headlights look and said, “Uh, is that a problem?” I don’t recall what she actually said in reply, but she wanted to scream “Hell yes that’s a problem!” When a leader is going to go home after his meetings and climb into bed with his wife, to portray celibacy as no big deal smacks of a lack of empathy to me.

  25. Thanks for this says:

    I love this. Thanks for sharing. I wish the official publication of the church would include essays like this instead of the one in April’s Ensign that states unequivocally that same-sex relationships are “counterfeit”. It seems like the church has a public stance regarding homosexuality that is far more accepting and acceptable than the position it takes in less public communications with its members.

  26. Gay YSA, your comment is so poignant. I agree with you 100%, there needs to be a balm. I was thinking about celibacy in terms of theological meaning – which is present in Catholicism and not there in LDS theology. But all the life experiences you describe, they strikes me as so much more important and urgent.

  27. It’s not “no big deal”. It’s a hard thing that is asked of many people who have many, varied challenges. I know couples who have never had sex because it’s not physically possible. I know people who have physical and mental challenges who will never be in a relationship, much less get married. Not getting the intimacy you long for it difficult, but not insurmountable.

    What if the Bishops response was “I’ve not had sex in ten years. What else can we do to help you find other close connections with others?”?

    Also, the monetary isn’t a place to put people who are otherwise forced to be celibate. We don’t need to be cloistered to give our lives to God, nor do those who do choose that life find themselves free of feeling what is being determined as “essential to life”

  28. Kevin Christensen says:

    Marriage does not always remove the need for periods of celibacy, sometimes for years. Marriage does not guarantee sexual fulfillment.
    Celibacy is but one possible variable in a life equation that may also involve sex addiction, a key diagnostic feature of which is the feeling that “Sex is my most important need.”
    Recovery from sex addiction includes a recovery from that feeling of urgent priority to a state in which sex is optional. And if sex is optional, rather than “my most important need” periods of celibacy are no big deal, rather denial of a person’s most important need.
    While homosexuality is not sex addiction, there is absolutely nothing that says a homosexual (or a heterosexual) cannot also be a sex addict. (I wrote a detailed essay at Square Two on this issue.)
    And if that is the case, that orientation does not exclude the possibility of addiction, one of the key diagnostic features for that addiction remains the feeling that “Sex is my most important need.” That priority will manifest not just in the personal actions of individuals, but also quite naturally in the politics of a group of addicts.
    Recovery from sex addiction is not a cure for homosexuality any more than it is a cure for heterosexuality. But recovery from sex addiction makes a huge difference in how a person of whatever orientation experiences periods of celibacy, as oppressive or impossible, or no big deal.
    Marriage is not a cure for sex addiction, any more than free booze is a cure for alcoholism, or unlimited credit cures gambling addiction. The cure, 12 step recovery, addresses the combination of increased craving and impeded judgment that produces the symptoms of acting out.

  29. Kevin Christensen, you win the prize for weirdest and most tangential comment in this thread.

    Frank Pellet, I still don’t think you’re hearing Gay YSA. It’s not all about sex.

  30. Emily U: The last list Gay YSA gave on what “celibacy” means isn’t limited to being LGBT. It’s part of being single, the difficulties of which we as spiritual siblings should be working to help relieve. Does being single make their lives less worth being lived?

  31. Frank, surely you see the difference between being celibate because the alternative will get you excommunicated (gay Mormon experience) and being celibate because the right person just hasn’t come along yet (straight single Mormon experience).

  32. Jessie, for some people there is no “right person” to come along. There is no hope of “it’s just not happened yet” because they have physical, mental, or other issues that prevent it from happening. We can spend time blaming the Church or blaming God, but it would be far better to help those who have this struggle to bear the crosses we cannot take away.

  33. I’ll have to agree to disagree with you, Frank. If I thought restricting marriage to heterosexuals was what God intends forever then I’d agree with you that LGBTQ celibacy is a cross to bear which nothing can take away. But I think sexuality and gender in the real world are more complicated than what LDS theology can currently account for, and that the Church needs to seek divine enlightenment on how they fit into LDS soteriology given what we’ve learned in the 20th and 21st centuries about sexuality and gender. Also, I like to point out that we’re fine with brushing aside polygamous marriage with “it will all work out in the next life,” so why not same sex marriage? Why not say “we may not get it exactly right here, but we’re going to do the charitable thing and let these people marry who they love, and let God work it all out in the next life.”

  34. Hawkgrrrl says:

    Emily U: “Also, I like to point out that we’re fine with brushing aside polygamous marriage with “it will all work out in the next life,” so why not same sex marriage? Why not say “we may not get it exactly right here, but we’re going to do the charitable thing and let these people marry who they love, and let God work it all out in the next life.”” What a great idea!

  35. Dave K – I love your view of family and creation based on Christ’s example. I think as a church we put too much emphasis on the two-parent biological family, which is tied more into our evolutionary natures than the expansive spiritual natures that Jesus and Joseph Smith tried to teach us about family. When Jesus’ mother and brethren were trying to get to him through the crowd, he pointed to everyone around him and said, behold my mother and my brethren. Joseph’s vision of family was of huge kinship networks that would link us all together back to Adam. These perspectives teach us how we are all part of the family of God and make us more compassionate and less selfish in my opinion.

    Frank P – Being gay is not akin to having a disability or mental illness. It is like being left-handed, red-haired or dark-skinned; just another variation in human traits that is neither negative or positive by itself. What makes any of these traits negative is if society views it as negative. When the church tells gay people that their sexual orientation – a core characteristic of one’s being – is like a susceptibility or inclination to being an alcoholic or some other dread condition, what does that tell a gay person? It essentially tells them they are defective, which leads to depression and suicide. A gay person shouldn’t have to ask God to change their sexual orientation anymore than a red-head should have to ask God to change their hair color. What needs to change is the negative way we label – or even persecute – people who have these traits.

  36. Frank: I don’t know why the Church should offer any balm for the celibate, either. My personal situation is similar to the “involuntary celibate” described on Laura Brotherson’s blog: https://www.strengtheningmarriage.com/involuntary-celibacy/ Unlike Gay YSA, I have a wife and children to come home to, to love and support me. But I am also reminded when I climb in bed that there is something missing from that relationship. What, if anything, should the Church say or do? I don’t know.
    I recall from the letter accompanying the Church’s response to the Obergefell decision a statement along the lines of “Gay marriage is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality”. It stood out to me because I could not answer the question, “what are the purposes of human sexuality?” I still cannot. I sometimes wonder if simply understanding those purposes would be enough.

  37. Thaddeus says:

    About a year and a half ago I wanted to write this. I outlined many of the same thoughts as Brother Cook, such as the puzzling way we ignore Jesus’s teachings on divorce apparently out of mortal expediency — a philosophy that could very easily be applied to time-only gay and lesbian marriages.

    My only criticism is that Cook seems to believe the Church *recommends* celibacy for gay members. The disavowal of using marriage _as a therapy_ for SSA is wrongly conflated with a discouragement to enter mixed-orientation marriages at all. I believe a more accurate summary of the *recommendation* is: First get therapy and apply the atonement so you’re in an emotional and spiritual state where a mixed-orientation marriage seems possible (even if the SSA doesn’t disappear), then get that temple sealing! Second, if that fails, try try again. Third, (fallback plan) be celibate.

    That seemed to be the message my bishops gave me. It was enough to get me aged out of my singles ward.

  38. Bryce Cook – “When the church tells gay people that their sexual orientation – a core characteristic of one’s being – is like a susceptibility or inclination to being an alcoholic or some other dread condition, what does that tell a gay person? It essentially tells them they are defective, which leads to depression and suicide.”

    It depends on where you draw the line. You seem to consider alcoholism to be a “susceptibility or inclination”, when for many it is a “core characteristic of one’s being”, which from the stigma you’ve given does lead to depression and suicide. How about we help those who have depression and suicidal ideation, no matter what its cause?

  39. Frank, you’ve got more patience and strength than I have to be able to continue here. When straight members start to define my experience for me, I find that the conversation is already over.

  40. Frank, KL, I’m also a gay Mormon making a go of the faithful life. You don’t speak for me.

  41. Gay YSA, I apologize for any implication that I speak for you. I certainly don’t want to claim that I do. Could you help me understand what would lead you to believe that is what I was trying to do?

  42. Bruce Spencer says:

    Frank… as the father of an alcoholic, depressed daughter who committed suicide… and a father of two gay sons… I totally agree. Realizing that I only speak for myself, and recognize that everyone is on their own journey.

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