LDS Rhetoric on Homosexuality
Racism and Homophobia in the Church
Deep Dark Sin, But Whose?
Honorable Mention, 2003 Affirmation Writing Contest
By Terry O'Brien
In light of several newspaper and magazine articles that have lately
decried the increasing suicides of young people, I was discussing homosexuality
with a friend. Although only an estimated 5% to 10% of young people are
gay, they represent 30% of attempted suicides -- Utah being one of the
top ten states, with 66 deaths in the year 2000 alone, and one of the
top three states for suicides by males between fifteen and nineteen. There
are many reasons for these tragedies (drugs, broken relationships, school
and family pressures, etc), but why so high among homosexuals?1
One gay LDS youth in California ended his life on the steps of the stake
The discussion was going well, and my friend asked intelligent questions,
appeared non-judgmental and seemed to be grasping the complexities and
stresses of the gay situation. Then, suddenly she grew uneasy. Her understanding
had apparently reached its limit, and she felt she had conceded too much.
President Kimball, she reminded me, was a prophet who wrote about homosexuality
in Miracle of Forgiveness. He called it a "deep, dark sin"
(p.79). She preferred not to think about it or discuss it further.
I have observed similar scenes, and witnessed how easy it is for many
people to let others do their thinking -- or worse, to not think at all.
Brigham Young expressed concern for members who rely too heavily upon
those who lead us, and neglect to enjoy the spirit for ourselves (Doctrine
of Diety, p. 111). The First Presidency spokesman says "it is
not true that the LDS President's word is law on all issues." And
President Kimball himself expressed concern over an "unthinking follow
the leader mentality" (Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy, 2:832,
President Hugh B. Brown, acting President for David O. McKay, said:
"The church is not so much concerned with whether the thoughts of
its members are orthodox or heterodox as it is that they shall have thoughts.
. . . Revealed insights should leave us stricken with the knowledge of
how little we really know." He further added, "While I believe
all that God has revealed, I am not quite sure I understand what he has
revealed, and the fact that God has promised further revelation is to
me a challenge to keep an open mind and be prepared to follow wherever
my search for truth may lead" (Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown, pp.
We are told that even the elect can be deceived (or mistaken), and someone
who knows President Kimball's daughter, says that upon his deathbed he
told her his one regret in life was "that chapter on homosexuality."
I have not been able to authenticate her statement, and President Kimball,
if he did say it, is not here to explain what he meant specifically; but
his son, Edward Kimball, told me that although he didn't know about that
statement, his father did tell him that in writing the book he had, perhaps,
been too hard (personal conversation, 11 Aug. 2001).
After much reflection upon President Kimball's statement about "deep,
dark sin," I am now willing to concede that practices involving the
homosexual condition are indeed deep, dark sin. But let me explain.
No doubt there are homosexuals who use their sexuality impersonally to
manipulate and control others, or as a game, mere entertainment, or release
with no regard for the well-being or feelings of their partners. For some,
nightly conquests are salve to soothe their psychological wounds, egos,
and feelings of inadequacy. But, these practices are not unique to the
homosexual, for many heterosexuals use similar ploys. Mature homosexuals
would decry such behavior on either side as irresponsible, but, at the
same time, would likely agree with Paul Ferrini, in his Silence of
the Heart, that "the only sexual expression that is reprehensible
is sex without love" (p. 51).
Many homosexuals, unwilling to face their future alone and emotionally
unfulfilled, do practice loving and caring relationships with only one
partner over a long period of time -- and even for life -- without the
societal traditions and role models that support heterosexual marriages.
How ironic that while homosexuals are seeking to give permanence and stability
to their relationships, heterosexuals are increasing their promiscuity,
live-ins, no-fault divorce, and an already high divorce rate. Yet same-sex
unions are considered a threat to the "sanctity" of marriage.
Again, how ironic that the LDS Church, which once considered polygamy
a sin, and later embraced it whole-heartedly against strong societal pressure,
now considers any marriage outside the norm of one man and one woman demeaning
to the marriage covenant. Elder Dallin Oaks, when questioned about homosexuality
on a CBS news show, stated that it was not sex that was objectionable,
but sex without marriage. But he added that the church does not offer
-- and rejects -- same-sex marriages (as society once rejected polygamy
to the Latter-day Saints). How soon the rejected become the rejectors.
The issue about marriage, according to Andrew Sullivan in a recent Time
essay, is not religious, but civil -- an attempt to reverse an "illicit
discrimination against a minority" (30 June 2003, p. 76). "Religious
groups," he says, " can well decide this matter on their own
time." But, he insists, it is also about respect, and adds: "if
the love of two people, committing themselves to each other exclusively
for the rest of their lives, is not worthy of respect, then what is?"
Since many homosexuals will pair up anyway, perhaps the recent Canadian
acceptance of gay marriages will resolve the contradiction and encourage
a binding tradition of civil unions, if not marriage, that will add further
dignity, responsibility, and permanence to committed same-sex relationships.
No, the practice I refer to as "deep, dark sin" is not that
committed homosexuals who choose to be loving, caring and responsible,
ironically, of the people who censure them without question or attempt
Homosexuality is "deep" because it is complex and requires
more than superficial examination and treatment. Homosexual feelings are
often profound and far from the surface, where uninformed judgment and
easy "cures" deceptively promise removal. Like those of the
heterosexual, these feelings are an integral part of one's being, extending
deep below the conscious level. They are difficult to comprehend (for
the possessor as well as for the counselor), complicated to analyze, and
basically, in many cases, unresponsive to permanent change. For whatever
effect it may eventually prove to have, our DNA is determined long before
we are born.
Homosexuality is "dark" because so many people are in the dark
about it. President Kimball says it is "repugnant to those who find
no temptation in it." Conversely, many homosexuals feel the same
about heterosexuality -- it is unnatural and therefore repugnant to them.
And why stress the "temptation" part? Although neither Jesus
nor Joseph Smith, nor the Book of Mormon or Doctrine and Covenants ever
comment upon it, and the word "homosexual" nowhere appears in
the Bible, many people reject it based upon a few inconclusive statements
which may be more about temple prostitution than about the love and long-term
commitment of same-sex partners. Why stress a few obscure passages about
same-sex love, then totally ignore other more direct statements in the
Old Testament about killing those who work on the Sabbath or curse their
parents, and for women not to wear men's clothing? Walk through the BYU
campus and notice how many girls today prefer jeans over dresses. How
would our young priesthood holders respond if we stressed Paul's admonition
for men to not touch a woman nor seek a wife, or our sisters if we adhered
to Paul's forbidding women to wear costly pearls or to speak in church
or to teach? Is it not possible that ancient scriptures may have various
personal, limited, outdated, or other interpretations?
True and committed love is encompassing and beautiful. Like heterosexuality,
sex is only a small part of homosexual feelings, and for many has not
even yet materialized. Homosexuals do not ask for license to sin or for
heterosexuals to find temptation in it; they only ask for others to try
to understand their feelings. Without understanding comes fear and prejudice
-- the ugly companions of rejection and persecution. Truth is light, and
those who have come to accept the truth about themselves have learned
to walk in its comforting warmth. Those who turn their backs on truth
and light will see only the darkness of the shadows they cast.
Finally, many practices directed by heterosexuals at homosexuality are
"sin." The practice of admonishing homosexuals to repent of
that which they only discovered within themselves but did not choose.
Teaching them to lie to themselves and others about who they are. The
practice of making them feel unworthy for something that is natural to
them. Misunderstanding, scorning, and rejection so that they learn to
distrust or deny their deepest feelings and to hate themselves even to
self destruction. And in extreme cases, the practice of gay bashing and
even murder, as in the heart-rending case of Matthew Shepard, beat up
and hung on a fence to die in freezing weather by homophobic youth. In
place of Christian love and support, these demeaning practices heaped
upon God's homosexual children by judgmental heterosexuals are, in effect,
sin, for sin blocks the natural progress and growth people of both sexual
orientations were meant to experience from their special God-given challenges.
Sin is often defined as estrangement from God, who is defined by Mormons
as a perfect male whom we are told to love with all our hearts, minds,
might and strength -- above all else. Yet homosexual males who have a
deep understanding of what it is to love another male in a complete spiritual,
social and emotional context (apart from the sexual), are told to repent
of such "repugnant" feelings. If they were able to manipulate
their natural feelings to become emotionally estranged from other men,
would that not also negatively affect their psychological feelings toward
Heavenly Father and Jesus? Would that rejection not then, for them, become
sin -- deep and dark? The same applies to lesbians who are discouraged
from loving a partner of their choice.
President Kimball, in the same chapter, also said, "How can you
say the door cannot be opened until your knuckles are bloody, till your
head is bruised, till your muscles are sore?" (p.82). After years
of therapy, of prayer, of fasting, and of agonizing, many of our gay and
lesbian brothers and sisters can honestly say "our knuckles are bloody,
our heads are bruised, and our muscles are sore." And as a result,
like the seed that must first pass through the dark earth while casting
off its confining coat, the way for many has opened and they have emerged
into the light of who and what they are, with full acceptance of their
same-sex feelings and unlimited potential for continued
Years ago, the Church youth recited weekly, "Dare To Be Different."
It is hoped that with increased understanding, love and acceptance, today's
gay youth will no longer loathe their being different, no longer betray
themselves in others' expectations, or feel trapped in the bonds of "deep,
dark sin" heaped upon them by the well-meaning but uninformed. Trusting
the voice within, they will refuse to accept shame for who they are, beat
themselves up, or attempt suicide as the only solution. With the help
of caring family and friends, and with spiritual strength from an unconditionally
loving Father in Heaven, they can joyfully recognize, honor, and own their
unique experience with life -- including the trials -- as personal gifts
from God for growth. As they let go of the past, gently dismiss the critics,
open themselves to new discoveries, and choose whatever path works for
them, they will finally say, "We have found the light of truth within
ourselves, and, as promised, it has made us free."
1. I use the word "homosexual" to represent gays and lesbians
in spite of insistence by some that such words are adjectives and not
nouns (Ensign, Oct. 1995, p. 9). As one lesbian put it, "I
am a noun, not an adjective." Would one say that a heterosexual
is only an adjective?