LGB Saints at Church: Some Suggestions

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Michael is from a multigenerational Latter-day Saint family but has spent the majority of his life outside of the Mormon corridor. He’s not employed by academia but looks for opportunities to scratch his academic itch.

This is a follow-up post to his description of cultural challenges facing the LGB community within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  As explained in the first post, the “T” is omitted intentionally out of respect for differences in transgender experience.

How can local Latter-day Saints and their leaders help to make our wards and stakes places of refuge, love, and sanctification for LGB Saints?

Based on my observations, I offer a few suggestions.  I acknowledge, with deepest gratitude, my indebtedness to Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic for her unique perspective and thoughts on LGB people in Catholicism.  In addition, please note that I think many of the issues Latter-day Saints have with LGB Saints can be addressed by rethinking the place of single people in the Church, regardless of their sexual orientation. 

Accept that some people will not marry on Earth. 

We must acknowledge that at any point in history there are people who remain single throughout mortality — including men, including in the LDS Church. We should figure out how to minister to single people as single people, not as potential spouses or parents or as adolescents who require married chaperones.

Avoid stereotypes of singles and LGB Saints in Church. 

Church discussions can often be uncharitable toward both singles and LGB Saints. Thus, while preparing lessons and talks, Saints should assume that the audience will include single women, single men, and LGB Saints who are trying to live the Gospel to the best of their ability. Avoid criticizing single people because they are unmarried. Avoid “culture wars” talking points that characterize LGB people as inherently sexual deviants, pedophiles, promiscuous, rebellious, obviously engaged in inappropriate sexual activity, incompatible with faithfully living the Gospel, etc. Remember: many mental health issues among LGB people stem from things like rejection, uncertainty, and despair, not from orientation or sin. 

If other class members or teachers bring up stereotypes, or speak as if LGB people are a demographic entirely separate from Latter-day Saints, do your best to remind them kindly that there are untold thousands of LGB Saints and single Saints who are striving to do the best they can to follow in Jesus’s footsteps and keep their covenants. What’s more, stereotypes are a symptom of sin: pride in one’s own goodness and knowledge, unkindness toward the stereotyped, ill-speaking or gossip or false witness, idolatry of one’s own ideals instead of God’s, a rejection of the Lord’s perspective on his own individual children, and so forth. 

Accept that single people can be lifelong faithful Church members. 

If we truly want our ministry to be universal, we will accept single people into our congregations, treating them in all possible institutional matters like married and to-be-married members. 

Single people should be considered and selected for every calling that does not explicitly require a married member. Faithful single people should be held up as role models for all ages. Lessons, talks, and activities should be planned in such a way that singles are visible and can participate (including single speakers, men and women, of various orientations in ward and stake meetings). Discussions at church should ideally not be limited to parenthood or childrearing.

Singles should not be reduced to their unmarried state at church. I have known very few singles for whom a leader’s lesson about marriage or dating made a difference; our time would probably be better spent with lessons about scripture and Christ. 

Further, we should consider that singles and LGB Saints can receive personal revelation about decisions not to marry, to cease actively seeking marriage, to put marriage-seeking on the backburner, and so forth. 

Married members should ideally seek singles’ consent before discussing singles’ marital status. Members should not demand or expect an explanation for anyone’s single state. 

Exercise theological creativity and humility. 

Too much of our theological thought about marriage and singlehood is simplistic and even punitive, when it needn’t be either.

Pastoral Counsel.  We need to think critically and sensitively about how to incorporate single Saints into the body of Christ as single Saints, not merely as future spouses. After all, there’s plenty in the Gospel for adults to learn. How to be Christlike and how to become a Zion people are a full curriculum, in which marriage plays a part but is not the whole.

We can minister to single people to help them avoid, in Tushnet’s words, “sins other than lust”: “dishonestly, lack of charity, sloth or acedia, self-harm, self-pity, self-centeredness,” all of which can be provoked by loneliness and anxiety. 

We should also be willing to entertain the notion that God is fine with the fact that some of his children are non-heterosexual — or even that He is glad for it. After all, we know that “to beautify and give variety” is one thing that God has commanded. This does not require that you believe that God created people straight, gay, or otherwise.  It doesn’t require you to believe that sexuality and orientation are necessarily and invariably inborn or entirely unaffected by human agency.  But it does require you to consider seriously that, in our experience, God doesn’t seem to wish non-heterosexual people or their non-heterosexuality out of existence on Earth — and might not do so in the hereafter, either. We don’t know.

Scripture.  Save for places in which spouses or children are specifically mentioned, we should entertain the idea that scriptural figures are single. A couple examples: Elijah, Abish, Moroni, Ammon, Paul, John, Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene — and, yes, Jesus Himself. We should also take seriously scriptures that suggest that marriage isn’t the only possibility for a righteous follower of Christ — see Paul’s endorsement of celibacy as a first choice, with marriage as a backup (see 1 Cor. 7:8-9).

Afterlife.  We should recognize what about the hereafter we do not know with certainty, including the form, experience, and purposes of celestialized bodies and their sexuality — as well as the social structures of the next life.

There’s no indication that earthly parents will reside with their earthly children in the Celestial Kingdom, as the nuclear family would suggest. If we look at the ramifications of sealings, the objective appears to be to link together all humans and link them to our Father.

We can also acknowledge the likely presence of single people in the Celestial Kingdom. There’s plenty of potentially troubling notions in D&C 132.  It’s unsettling that one of our only scriptural bases for the doctrine of eternal marriage and families entwines it closely with polygamy (so much so that throughout the post-Nauvoo 19th Century “celestial marriage” was synonymous with polygamy).  But for all its faults, the total exclusion of single people from the Celestial Kingdom is not one of them.

Nevertheless, Latter-day Saints tend to speak of D&C 132’s “ministering angels” in a pejorative manner. This is not justified. After all, we have renamed a major church program “ministering,” top our temples with statues of an angel who ministered, and (try to) awe deacons with the idea that they’re ordained to the priesthood that “holds the keys of the ministering of angels.” Further, most LDS discourse about ministering angels seems to read a position of service as inherently inferior and wholly undesirable; denigrating service seems contrary to all we know of Christ’s kingdom in which, presumably, ministry holds the highest honor. There is no evidence that God considers angels to be dishonorable — quite the contrary.

Acknowledge forms of Gospel-friendly flourishing beyond family, work, and church assignments. 

Single and LGB Saints face pressure both inside the Church and out of it to find romance. Furthermore, meaningful work and magnification of one’s Church callings are unstable foundations of personal identity.

To these sources of life meaning Eve Tushnet would add that of vocation, something almost entirely missing in LDS discourse. A vocation, she says, is “the path or way of life in which God is calling us to pour out our love for him and for other particular human beings.” Vocations can take a variety of forms that one must discern in consultation with God — close friendship, volunteer service, aid to family members, and more — but Tushnet identifies two characteristics all her vocations have shared: “they all challenged me to sacrifice ego in the service of love; and they all formed my identity, rather than requiring me to form it myself before I was good enough to start the work of love.”  Celibacy, a “refraining-from-action,” is not a vocation in itself — but it can enable celibate people to explore certain vocations that might be more difficult for married people.

We, as individuals and congregations, can come to respect singles’ activities as God-given vocations. This would allow for singles to practice discernment, build Zion, and be shaped by their relationship with God in ways that persist throughout their lives.

Invigorate and honor non-familial relationships. 

One of the few other passages about the social structure of the afterlife is found in D&C 130:2, and is much broader than D&C 132: “that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory.” Note that it does not make reference specifically to family structures — meaning that the “sociality” there could easily include friendships and other non-familial, non-sealed relationships.

Accordingly, we can incorporate such relationships more deeply into our Church and personal practice. Friendships are not distractions from family or mere placeholders for future spousal relationships. Local leaders could consider allowing Church members to formally “minister” to ward members to whom they are particularly close. Individual members, taking cues from historical vowed friendships and “wedded brothers” of the sort that Tushnet outlines, might explore ways of pledging to each other mutually as friends.

That individual covenants not proposed or administered by Church authorities can nevertheless be praised by Church leaders is well established by Helaman’s defense of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies’ covenant of pacifism. See Alma 53:10-15.

Inclusion of singles in families. 

Married Latter-day Saints should consider how they can meaningfully incorporate single relatives and friends into their family lives and structures.

To begin, we should distinguish between parasitic, neutral, and symbiotic forms of single co-residence with family members, encouraging better forms of single co-residence. For some married couples and families, inclusion of singles could mean living together with a single “uncle” or “aunt” under the same roof. For others, it could be sharing family responsibilities and resources with a single person. It could be regularly integrating single people into family events, celebrations, and traditions. It could be volunteering to serve as a single person’s local emergency contact or being on-call when they’re sick. It could be making it clear that employees won’t be penalized for taking time off to care for friends (Tushnet 208).

In a Church context, we should allow singles and LGB Saints to interact with children and adolescents, including in callings. We should not, in Tushnet’s words, allow “fear of the occasions of sin,” especially fears based on unkind and untrue stereotypes of LGB Saints as pedophiles, “to destroy possible occasions of virtue” or occasions of belonging (101).

Treat singles as adults.  

Saints should take care to treat singles as whole people with their own lives, dreams, and anxieties. Married Saints and their children should seek to maintain interest and involvement in the lives of their single co-religionists, sharing the achievements, activities, sorrows, and joys of single people.

If we detect a difference between how we speak to single people and how we speak to married people, we should examine how we could engage with singles with more charity.

We should try to limit the effects of traditional courtship roles on our perception of singles. That is, we should avoid treating all single women only with pity and all single men only with contempt.

Respect singles’ emotions. 

Singles need little help to be aware of their single status. Some are having trouble feeling worthy of marriage (or God’s love) after prolonged singlehood. Some are trying to understand what to do with a lifetime of singlehood staring them down. Sorrows shouldn’t be dismissed because of marital status. Our baptismal covenant requires that we mourn with those that mourn, not that we first adjudicate whether they are mourning for proper reasons.

Respect LGB Saints’ agency and life narratives.  

We should make sure that our treatment of LGB Saints is appropriate for the person with whom we’re speaking, and not just for a stereotype of LGB Saints we have created or absorbed. 

We should take care to describe LGB Saints with the words (“same-sex attracted,” “gay,” “queer,” etc.) they prefer. If we have concerns about a word’s use, let’s be willing to learn what the word means for the person who’s using it instead of assuming the connotations it has for us. (A story in this post demonstrates a negative effect of prioritizing linguistic correctness over companionship and pastoral care.)

Even when trying to be encouraging, we can cause unneeded pain. We should avoid performative support that imposes our perspective on LGB Saints’ life narratives. For instance, a compliment for “bravery” or “honesty” might be well-meant, but it implies a narrative that the complimented person might reject — and therefore can be offputting, undesired, trite, or impersonal. In any case, it’s good to express gratitude for their sharing with us and offer the support they desire and we can give.

We should avoid unsolicited advice, including to leave the LDS Church or to adopt another faith tradition. As this article argues, such suggestions are an attempt at a “quick fix” that ignores that the LGB Saint could love a lot of what they have in the LDS Church — and ignores the large differences between churches in doctrine, history, and practice. Friends should also refrain from automatically advising LGB Saints to abandon their (non-abusive) families. Because of long histories of rejection of LGB people by their families, leaving family behind can be treated as a default; however, as all families and LGB people are different, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to family conflicts.

Make sure our love is unconditional — and that singles and LGB Saints know that. 

While conditional support can appear to ensure compliance, it commonly creates feelings of confinement, instability, and resentment. One of the most important things we can do is to express that we love them without conditions — and specifically express that they can come to us to speak about anything without judgment or reprisal.

As much as possible, do not penalize LGB Saints. 

Same-sex marriage is presently a gray area of Church discipline; the recent announcement that it is no longer defined as apostasy makes implementation of disciplinary action more ambiguous. The announcement says that “the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.”  Does this mean that same-sex marriages be treated in the same manner as long-term heterosexual cohabitative relationships?

Local leaders have significant leeway in their treatment of LGB Saints and should sensitively seek discernment about meting out disciplinary measures, including the insertion of permanent notes into their Church membership records that would restrict their interactions with their fellow Saints in perpetuity. Let’s make sure our perceptions of LGB Saints and their actions are based on their individual actions, not on stereotypes of LGB people or on double standards that exaggerate the severity of non-heterosexual actions.

Honor the goodness in LGB Saints’ feelings, even their attractions.

We should explore meanings of single and LGB sexuality. After all, LGB Saints’ love is like that of straight Saints: complicated, melded with sexual, romantic, tactile, and companionate desire, all things that should not cease to be considered beautiful because their objects are different. As Tushnet mentions, bringing soup to a hypothetical girlfriend would count as acting on lesbian feelings, but would be far from intercourse — and by no means sinful. She discusses other ways in which she’s expressed her love for women outside of sexual or romantic relationships.

For LGB Saints who wish to remain celibate, we should remember that so-called “sexual” desires are God-given and can be founts of love and beauty in their lives. We should labor to learn how best to honor these desires. For each person, the solution might be different, but exploring ways of respecting sexual drive and desire — including sublimation into art, service, and non-sexual expressions of love — would help not only LGB Saints, but single and married Saints of all sexualities and ages.

We should also avoid only talking about the potential pitfalls of LGB lives. As Tushnet said, “if, as I describe various ways people have found to live [celibate] queer lives, you find yourself seeing only the dangers, let me suggest that you may have let your prudence harden into callousness or even cruelty. I do think it’s cruel to argue that queer people — and only queer people — should have only those vocations that can be lived without fear or temptation.” There must needs be opposition in all things, after all: deliberately trying to live life without pain is trying to live a life without joy.

We should also take care to find and honor the good in our relatives’, friends’, and neighbors’ same-sex romantic and marital relationships, as well as in LGB communities, instead of focusing solely on their (presumed) performance of certain sex acts. While the Church still considers sexual activity within such romantic and marital relationships “serious transgressions,” such relationships and LGB communities can be arenas in which participants develop and practice Christlike attributes: sacrificial self-giving, commitment, faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. Just as we would not want our lives and works of faith to be discarded because we do not follow the Law of Consecration in its fullness, we should acknowledge where others follow the Lord.

Realize that your best efforts will not keep everyone in the Church. 

We could follow all of these suggestions (and more) and still see LGB and single Saints among your friends and family let temple recommends lapse, go inactive, or leave the Church. After all, there are tensions that cannot be resolved by local leaders and congregation members, and there are draws from outside the Church that can appeal to LGB Saints’ desires for family, purpose, and beauty. At best, the changes suggested above will help LGB Saints live richer lives inside the Church; however, they can also help to reduce tensions between straight and LGB Saints, between the Church and LGB former Saints, and between Saints and broader LGB communities. 

But we should also remember that these suggestions to make the Church a more welcoming place are good in themselves, not only because of their potential social effects. As Tushnet says, “The reward for loving gay people better isn’t better PR, or even more souls saved…. The reward for loving gay people better is that you love gay people better. And in them you love Christ.” (205) We love better; we approach Christlikeness; and the Kingdom of God grows within and around us.

Comments

  1. Treating singles as adults really hit home for me. I’m a single straight man in my late 30s and it is the feeling I have when dealing with other church members. I served in all kind of leadership positions, currently as stake executive secretary, and members still don’t see me as an adult.

    It’s in the little interactions: calling me by my first name in formal church settings instead of calling me brothera, asking me to bring drinks for pot lucks as if living by myself for 15 years I didn’t learn to cook.

  2. Walker F. says:

    This pair of posts is tremendously thoughtful and timely. Thank you, Michael, for articulating these points. I’ve long thought that there could and very well should be a companion to Neylan’s book focusing on LGB saints, their lived experience, and how we can make the body of the church a more welcoming and inclusive home, even within the constraints of current policies and teachings.
    Perhaps you should write that book?

  3. Concerned says:

    You seem to be deliberately excluding transfolk. Why?

    (Sorry if you explain it somewhere in your post; TL;DR)

  4. While you aren’t addressing trans people in this post (and obviously the challenges trans people face are radically different from those of LGB members of the church), it’s worth pointing out that as a trans man who has to some extent legally and medically transitioned, I have a very restricted marriage pool if I wish to maintain my current standing in the church. My only option would be to marry a trans woman who has also legally transitioned. A relationship with anyone else could be construed as homosexual, either based on my assigned gender at birth or my legal gender. So I’m left with a small fraction of one percent of the population as eligible matches.

  5. Villate says:

    Concerned: Read both essays. He explains it explicitly in the first: “I am intentionally using “LGB” throughout this discussion. I use “LGB” to include all non-straight orientations, from asexuality to pansexuality. I leave off “T” not to invalidate the experiences of transgender Saints, but because sexual orientation and gender identity require different sets of theological and institutional approaches. Theological matters of gender identity typically explore individual correspondence between spirit, mortal, and resurrected bodies (i.e., eternal gender). Meanwhile, issues of sexual orientation are primarily concerned with divinely-sanctioned relationships between people. For insight into the experience of transgender saints, I recommend BCC’s recent guest post by Lona Gynt.”

  6. One of the biggest I have is when people associate everything LGB as violations of the law of chastity. The Law of Chastity is no sex outside of a heterosexual marriage. It doesn’t include the way I walk, the way I talk, how masculine or feminine I am, and it has nothing to with wearing gay pride or fighting for gay rights. It is hard enough being a faithful member of the Church without having extra burdens placed upon us.

    I would also note that several of these suggestions revolved around being single. Many LGB people, especially the bisexual ones, are faithfully and happily married to the opposite sex.

  7. Teach them about Jesus, his life, his prophets, and his restored church.

    Teach them about our true relationship to our Father in Heaven and our eternal destiny if we are faithful.

    Encourage them to keep on the covenant disciple’s path and repent when they stray from it.

  8. Wow. As a gay Latter-day Saint myself, I’m honestly surprised at the dedication to doctrinal truths in this piece. It seems to be a rare-find outside of church publications.
    I also appreciate the reference to Eve Tushnet. I loved reading her book, as well as Wesley Hill’s, “Spiritual Friendship.” There are some excellent ideas for vocations and possibilities for community for covenant-keeping Gay Latter-day Saints. The celibate partnership idea resonates with me…much more than the idea of a husband.

    All too often I see more efforts to change doctrine and/OR find a place for same-sex sexual relationships within the Church…and very little about finding love and as a celibate gay person. Many probably think Pride is a welcoming place for *all* gays, but it’s really not. That’s why we need a place in the Church. I know church leaders are aware of us, but some of us kind of have to take the lead.

  9. Jonathan says:

    “And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while, in light of some discussions that I had on another board about LGB Saints — particularly the phrase “rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth.” It struck me that “rejoiceth in iniquity” was an apt description of, say, a Pride parade — the false ‘love’ that seems to have displaced a true charity or love (actively willing the good [in this case the eternal good] of the other). And it demonstrated the abandonment of charity attached with abandonment of truth and honest conversations about sin and repentance.

    All well and good so far — it is always far easier to see the weaknesses in others than it is to look inwardly. But when I do look inwardly it still leaves me struggling somewhat for direction as I ponder this. If I am to show charity for those struggling with same-sex attraction, what does that actually look like? Certainly not a trite statement that they are perfect just the way they are — that isn’t true about any one of us sinners here in mortality. What does it mean to “rejoiceth in the truth” in this context? The truth to rejoice in seems, to me, to be their eternal and infinite worth as a beloved son or daughter of God and the perfect nature of the Atonement. But, if I am being honest, it is far easier to win a debate on the doctrine than it is to know how to love my brothers and sisters so I find myself arguing the doctrine more readily than I perhaps should.

    Now some parts of this verse are more easily applied. Kindness, of course, seems obvious. Avoiding pride (being puffed up) is likewise obvious. “[S]eeketh not her own” seems, likewise, applicable — not seeing those with same-sex attraction as the “other” but, rather, part of the body of the Church.

    But how do we have conversations about this topic while rejoicing in the truth? Saying to someone that they are of infinite worth is absolutely true and, when pondered, unbelievably profound. But it feels almost trite and unpersonal when it is actually said. Talking about the Atonement — not only forgiveness but Grace as well — engenders reactions that indicate that it is perceived as hostile or judgmental (even when well intentioned). So what is the correct way to have these sorts of discussions that not only avoids rejoicing in iniquity but actually hews closely to the truth while at the same time demonstrates that charity that should be (and often is) behind the start of so many conversations online that begin well-intentioned and end in angry posts?

    Anyhow, sorry to ruminate aloud for a little bit, but it is a legitimate question that I am dwelling on as I try to strike the correct balance that will allow for charity to flourish. I had hoped that posting would help me sort out the answer in my mind, but I fear it has not done so. I am quite confident that I am clear on the doctrine but less confident on its application to the real human beings of eternal worth who I actually deal with.

  10. Martin
    ‘it’s worth pointing out that as a trans man who has to some extent legally and medically transitioned, I have a very restricted marriage pool if I wish to maintain my current standing in the church. ”
    Yes, you are right, it is worth pointing that out, you are right. As a transgender woman, I feel that Michael’s posts regarding the challenges and possible suggestions apply to sexual orientation and is not to be conflated directly with the issue of gender identity. However, in my experience of the trans community/support groups/friends where I live, I have found that the entire range of sexual orientation is present among trans persons (as is the case also among cis persons). I would hope that at least some day this might be ameliorated by less “construing,” but I don’t know when. “Limited range to haunt… thankful for the friends I’ve got,” as the song goes. You describe the painful current difficulty well.

  11. Thank you Michael. You have now challenged all of us, to see with a wider scope of vision. You have given such a wonderfully wide range of suggestions, from the institutional to the personal. I personally, however, long for a day when all the doctrines may catch up with the only doctrine that “never faileth.” And we can have further discussion about the “full” range of family and marriage and eternal blessings being seen as available to persons of all sexual orientations within the framework of fidelity – including those that are single irregardless of orientation. You kind and loving and empathetic suggestions would largely still be relevant in such a world, as they are in the wider world already. I wish to be able to let love be love in all its possibilities.

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2019/04/05/let-love-be-love/

  12. I consider myself open-minded, but ultimately pretty orthodox in both belief and practice. This is exactly the approach that works for people like me. There is so much here that we fail to do as a church, but that we can start to do individually to help gay Saints feel welcome and loved. Some are common sense and common decency, but some are things I’d never quite seem from this perspective. Thank you.

  13. Flymetothemoon says:

    God loves all His children. Regardless of what they struggle with. If we want to make any difference to each other our actions must be motivated by love also. Charity comes from a love of God first, and having gained some understanding through striving in this regard we gain some light to how God loves all his children and can strive to be a window to that love.

    I think it is inportant to not lose sight that same sex attraction is a struggle, which is real and significant for many, about aligning with the will of God. The man who struggles to keep his temper, the woman who struggles with addiction – these can be things that either separate the individual from God, or turn them to Him. It’s a matter of choice. The battle to find healing in relation to these things can and often is the battle of a lifetime, sometimes going beyond this life.

    It’s important I think that we don’t seek to justify the struggle as being an excuse to not come to Christ. Its easy to talk about what others ought to do, which they may or may never do, what’s always within our control is what we do. God is and will be interested in what we do in relation to our struggles not the actions or inactions of others. The challenge for us all is to have the humility to come to Christ sufficiently so we see our wesknesses, and then to find further humility to really humble ourselves and find grace to overcome. For overcoming is the goal. Its healing, not management of our struggles we ought to strive for I believe.

    It’s noble to push for positive change in the communities we belong to. I fear that often energies are channeled into pushing changes without while neglecting our own first responsibility to change within.

  14. Thank you for this spectacular collection of suggestions, Michael.
    I wanted to echo your call to “Respect singles’ emotions” and “Respect LGB Saints’ agency and life narratives” Complimenting someone on their strength in “following the covenant path” serves as a tidy reminder of a lifetime of celibacy and/or loneliness. An unintentional punch to the gut when a compliment is meant.
    To me, additional punches come when well-meaning individuals share what they struggle with. I’ve had dear friends share their challenges with me, from working on keeping their temper, to battling addictions, to wanting to shoplift, and many others. I appreciate their willingness to try to find common ground by sharing such struggles. However, sharing like this usually comes across as tone deaf in this circumstance. The phrase “everyone has struggles” is inherently an expressed assumption of some degree of equivalency in trials in this mortal life.
    Perhaps a better approach is similar to Michael’s recommendations. Rather than automatically expressing a personal struggle, a simple “I’m here for you” goes miles.

    A practical example may be inviting them to sit with your family at church. If they do, great. If they choose not to, also great. Talk about life, WITHOUT expressing either pity or envy at “singlehood.” An expression of fellowship, to the extent of your ability and similarly respecting agency means a great deal to me.

  15. MIchael says:

    Thanks, everyone so far, for reading and leaving comments! I’ll respond in a couple installments.

    Mandla — Oof, yeah. Those are exactly the sort of outward signs that show an implicit devaluation of singles, even ones who in other contexts are viewed as successful!

    Walker — I’d be happy to write the book, but I think I’d need a cowriter: someone with whom to bounce off ideas, to keep me on track, to help out through thorny conceptual, compositional, and even emotional passages. I’d just need to identify such a person and get to work; anyone you know who might be interested?

    Martin — Yeah, that’s very tough. And that doesn’t include some of the unique institutional pressure points transfolk face (things like ordination, disciplinary triggers relating to transition, gender-partitioned classes, and so forth) and the fact that gender identity is even less explored than sexual orientation in LDS discourse.

    Fix LDS hymns — You’re right that there are a good number of bisexual Saints, and even some homosexual ones, who do not face Church sanctions because they are married to members of the opposite sex. I focus on singlehood in these posts primarily because concurrently believing that 1) some people are (entirely or primarily) homosexual and 2) mixed-orientation marriages are inadvisable forces us into the position of believing that there will be queer Saints who will never get married — necessitating a new discourse of faithful singlehood. Married queer folks will face their own issues related to sexual orientation, but I don’t really want to speak to an experience I don’t share. (In addition to the fact that homosexual Saints in heterosexual marriages are already visible in the discourse. Bisexual Saints have a perspective we could use more of!)

  16. Jonathan: “It struck me that ‘rejoiceth in iniquity’ was an apt description of, say, a Pride parade — the false ‘love’ that seems to have displaced a true charity or love.”

    I don’t think that follows at all from current LDS belief, though I imagine it’s not an uncommon opinion. Michael’s piece argues that we should find things to love and admire in our friends’ LGBT relationships and marriages and communities and activism, because to do otherwise is to reduce them to a series of sex acts.

    I can go to a Fourth of July parade without worrying that I’m corrupting my soul by condoning, say, U.S. interference in Central American governments in the 1920s. If you can’t think of specific things to celebrate in your gay friends’ marriages and communities, you might need more gay friends.

  17. Ido — Certainly. I hope nothing I’ve said would lead you to believe that I wouldn’t advise doing all that. However, I would like to ask whether you’ve read my “Some Challenges” post (linked at the top of this one), and whether you’d think that any of those concerns would be well-served by a more tailored pastoral approach than what you recommend here.

    Alex — I’m glad you’ve encountered Tushnet’s work! She’s great at modeling a middle road that bridges the trenches of the Culture Wars. (I actually introduced her to North Star a couple years back, leading to her speaking there.) There are ways in which the celibate partnership idea appeals to me, too — orientation isn’t all about wanting intercourse, after all! — and as I mention, I think there’s a basis for belief in non-universal covenants that God honors (see: Anti-Nephi-Lehies). But one reason I didn’t include celibate partnerships here is that the LDS Church seems to view relationships (even ostensibly celibate ones) through a sexual lens — I can’t help but suspect that two members of the same sex living together, in a vowed celibate relationship, would be subjected to Church discipline. I hope that, as we try to thread this needle, we find the eye of the needle to be more open than expected.

    Jonathan — Ruminations are always welcome! And I appreciate your interest in ministering to your SSA brothers and sisters — and your recognition that the doctrinal hammer is easier to wield than the knitting needles that can join together our hearts. Would you mind if I asked: were there any aspects of this post that helped you understand or figure out specific ways in which you can minister to your LGB siblings in Christ?

    Lona Gynt — Thank you so much; I’m glad to hear your thoughts. I truly hope that some of these suggestions can help! :)

    Dsc — I’m glad that these posts have helped! Would you mind if I asked what elements of these posts turned out to be new perspectives for you?

  18. Flymetothemoon — Thanks for reading the posts! I do have a few questions about your comment, though.

    1. Does the Church encourage anger and addiction in some circumstances, but not in others?
    2. What would “healing in relation to” same-sex attraction look like, in your mind?
    3. Do you think I am “seek[ing] to justify the struggle as being an excuse to not come to Christ”? Can you point to specific instances where you think I’m doing so? I don’t want to do so.
    4. Do you believe that we have responsibility for how we treat others? Do we have a responsibility to ask for, receive, and take to heart others’ comments on how we treat them?
    5. What in these two posts leads you to imply that I, and other LGB Saints, are “pushing changes without while neglecting our own first responsibility to change within”?
    6. What points in these posts helped you feel closer to Christ? or to gain understanding of the lived experience of your LGB Saint brothers and sisters and minister to them?

  19. JD — Ah, true! I’ll take a note to include something about well-meant but false equivalencies (“[sinful] struggles”) in future iterations of these suggestions.

    Your suggestions about interacting with singles are great, too. I’ll see about incorporating those as well!

    Kenzo — That’s a very apt analogy. Thank you for it!

  20. Jonathan says:

    Michael:

    “Would you mind if I asked: were there any aspects of this post that helped you understand or figure out specific ways in which you can minister to your LGB siblings in Christ?”

    I don’t know that it did, if I am being honest — it was a good article, but I don’t know that I am any closer to knowing the proper balance. That being said, I have been in an atypical Church situation myself (accusations of me being unsympathetic notwithstanding) so that doesn’t mean there isn’t good advice here — there is.

    What prompted my comment was your statement about respecting others’ life narratives — I had been thinking of that verse before, and its instruction to stick to the truth — and wondering what that meant in this context. I believe every one has their own life narrative — but I don’t for a moment believe they are self-defined. And those life narratives have more in common with each other than ways they are particularly different so if you know something about life narratives in general, you can know things about individual life narratives that the person living that life might not realize — that is a foundational belief that motivates missionary work in general. That got me thinking, and that got me posting.

  21. Thank you for including the most marginalized groups that are often ignored in discussions like this.

  22. “God loves all His children. Regardless of what they struggle with.”
    biology biology biology biology ..
    Why is this so difficult to understand?

  23. Michael,

    The ideas I had never really fully considered were looking at single (or possibly single) scriptural role models, invigorating non-familial relationships and incorporating singles into families. I was single for much longer than is typical among Latter-day Saints, so I have often considered some of these other issues. I think one of the most important take aways is that people really should not dwell on why someone is single or feel the need to pressure them to get married. Whatever the reason, it’s not something that can be easily “fixed”. Better to develop, respect, and value individuals as they are.

  24. Dsc – great point.

    I’m reminded of the rule that if you see a supposed flaw in someone that they can change in 15 seconds (like something stuck in their teeth or their fly is down), tell them. If they can’t quickly change it (crooked teeth, overweight), don’t. Not a perfect analogy, but I was reminded of this by your comment.

  25. Anon for this says:

    Michael, you write: “For LGB Saints who wish to remain celibate, we should remember that so-called “sexual” desires are God-given and can be founts of love and beauty in their lives. We should labor to learn how best to honor these desires. For each person, the solution might be different, but exploring ways of respecting sexual drive and desire — including sublimation into art, service, and non-sexual expressions of love — would help not only LGB Saints, but single and married Saints of all sexualities and ages.”

    And then later in the comments you and Fix LDS Hymns briefly touched upon bisexual saints and the need to consider their perspectives and needs more. As someone who is not strictly straight and probably a 2 or 3 on the Kinsey scale but happily married in a straight relationship, I feel the passage I’ve quoted from your OP (among others) could very much speak to bisexual saints as well. Bisexual people in general who are committed to monogamy, whether in straight or same-sex relationships, must find ways to honor their desires in a way that is also true to their commitments to their partner. I believe your words here speak to ways, in my experience, that bisexual people are able to do that — through means such as “sublimation into art, service, and non-sexual expressions of love.” Due to harmful cultural taboos and norms surrounding male homosociality, I do think this is probably easier for women than men, both in the broader culture and in the church (though for different reasons in those different settings.) On that note, some of your prescriptions for cultural change in the church could also help bisexual members, such as your recommendation that we “invigorate and honor non-familial relationships.”

    In saying this, though, I don’t mean to distract from the laudable purpose of the OP, focused as it is on the experiences of single members of the Church, especially LGB singles. In particular, I don’t want to diminish the reality of the fact that bisexual people in straight relationships, while they may have their own unique challenges and needs, also enjoy a degree of privilege in the Church that lesbian and gay people, bisexual singles (or bisexual people in same-sex relationships), and even straight singles, do not.

  26. Rachel E O says:

    I heartily second Walker’s motion. Write the book! And Michael, you write: “Walker — I’d be happy to write the book, but I think I’d need a cowriter: someone with whom to bounce off ideas, to keep me on track, to help out through thorny conceptual, compositional, and even emotional passages. I’d just need to identify such a person and get to work; anyone you know who might be interested?”

    I have basically no expertise in queer theory and theology, aside from what I’ve picked up through amateur exposure to online think pieces. I’m also not single. But give me a year to finish my dissertation (haha) and I’d love to offer whatever help I can to you in writing this book, from co-writing to beta-reading.

  27. I find myself struggling with Flymetothemoon’s comment, in which they wrote:

    “I think it is inportant to not lose sight that same sex attraction is a struggle, which is real and significant for many, about aligning with the will of God.”

    This is an extraordinarily problematic sentence, and it is followed by comparisons of sexuality to struggles with addictions or temper that classify each struggle as a “matter of choice.” The clear implication is that such struggles are temporary processes that are resolved when victory is achieved. Struggle with addictions long enough, and the addictions are eventually broken. Struggle with temper long enough, and the temper is finally tamed. Logically, the message is that if one struggles long enough with same-sex attraction, eventually it, too, goes away.

    That used to be what the Church taught on this subject, so I can understand why someone might mistakenly believe it is what we still teach. But it is not. We do not teach that people choose which gender they will find sexually attractive, nor do we teach that such attractions will be conquered by sufficient struggle.

    The challenge we, as a Church, have going forward is that we have now adopted a position that is logically untenable. Back when Spencer W. Kimball was telling everyone that pornography was turning people gay, that incorrect position had the virtue of being consistent with itself. After all, if gay people were simply choosing the wrong sexual orientation, the Church was justified in withholding blessings until they chose the right one.

    But now, even as we recognize that sexuality is not a choice, we still treat it as if it is. We now say that, no, you didn’t choose to be gay, but we will continue to treat you as if you did. Sure, maybe God made you this way and you cannot change, but there is no righteous purpose or outlet for your sexuality, and you need to resign yourself to a celibate life of loneliness and solitude. That doesn’t work for anyone, including the Church as a whole.

  28. Michael says:

    Jim Bennett — Thank you for your comment! You’re correct that Flymetothemoon’s comment features some inaccurate analogies (they haven’t yet responded to my requests for clarification) that reveal, as you mention, the unresolved tensions between present and past LDS teachings about sexual orientation.

    One of the purposes of this post, however, was to open space — even assuming the Church’s current teachings and policies do not change — to believe that there IS “righteous purpose or outlet for [non-hetero] sexuality,” and that LGB Saints, even if they decide to remain celibate, need NOT resign themselves to a “life of loneliness and solitude.”

    Do you this the post accomplished this purpose, even in small degree? If not, are there other suggestions you would add that could be put into practice by local members and leaders today?

  29. Michael, I think both your posts were wonderful and inspired from beginning to end, and I think they absolutely accomplished their purpose. I don’t have anything to add to them – I think you’ve been as close to comprehensive as anyone could be. And notably, there isn’t anything in these posts that should be objectionable to anyone in the Church, even those who stubbornly cling to Kimball-era teachings that we no longer teach.

    I’m probably stepping out of bounds, then, but I’m firmly of the opinion that the Church’s current teachings and policies are inherently unstable. Your suggestions are well-suited for the Church as presently constituted, but I think the Church as presently constituted, at least on this issue, cannot endure. We either have to recognize that the Lord has a righteous purpose for non-hetero sexuality and move forward or we have to go back to pretending gay people choose to be gay. I hope and pray we do the former.

  30. Francine says:

    As a divorced woman, heterosexual, I offer a deal to all my married church members. I promise not to ask why you are married to that fat bald man or witchy woman if you refrain from asking why I am single. Do you really believe most of us envy your marriages? We are grateful not to have to deal with your spouses. Stop making everything about marriage in the Church. Make it about becoming Christlike.

  31. I agree with Jim Bennett, jus sayin’

  32. Every time I read a post here dealing with single people, I am astonished to discover your real beliefs regarding us. People in the Church are single for a host of reasons. Some married the wrong person when they were young. Some came from families with violent, mentally ill, alcoholic or drug addicted parents. They were not ready for marriage when they were young and found the pool of prospects unacceptable when they had gotten the help they needed to be a good marriage partner. They had problems controlling their weight when they were young, so were overlooked in the meat market most singles wards promote. They were not aggressive enough chasing other women’s boyfriends (Yes, I am speaking about the granddaughter of President Hinckley here.) They came from families considered not church royalty so were dismissed as not worthy by the social climbing set. They were simply not pretty enough at BYU. The real point is all married people are one car accident from becoming single. If your intelligence, kindness, seeking after goodness are dependent on your marital status, the votes are in. The singles in the Church rank far higher than the married members. I believe most married classify singles the way they do out of jealousy. Who wouldn’t be jealous of people vacationing in Europe every year during their twenties and thirties. Choosing their own clothes and furniture and entertainment without having to constantly compromise to please a spouse. Not having to spend another Saturday morning watching soccer and listening to the other parents tell you just how great their children are.
    While most singles I know would have loved a good marriage, quite frankly, the marriages they see are nothing to write home about. When I hear the men pontificate in Sunday School I go home and thank God I am not required to pretend admiration of their insight and intelligence to these men because it would be my job as their wife.

  33. Michael says:

    Brenda, thank you for your comment. As a single person myself, I hope I haven’t given the impression that I agree with any of those negative attitudes about single LDS people. If I have, please let me know where, and I’ll work to address it.

  34. Nancy K says:

    As someone who spent the majority of my adult life in older singles wards, may I repeat a statement a friend made. The singles ward is the only place in the Church where I don’t feel single. I am just allowed to be myself and make my contribution.

  35. Thirty Flirty and Thriving says:

    Brenda-

    As a gay single man, I have this to say to your comment: yaaaaaaas kween

  36. From a never-married, childless, 50+ LDS woman: Thank you Brenda and Francine!

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