LDS Rhetoric on Homosexuality
For the Strength of Youth?
Affirmation Leader Responds to Anti-Gay Pamphlet
In 1991, the church released the now well-known pamphlet,
For the Strength of Youth, to teach young people about morality.
Read one Affirmation member's view that the pamphlet's message on
homosexuality is not only misguided, but dangerous for youth. Below
is an excerpt from this letter:
Office of the First Presidency
I write to you as one who shares your sincere concern for the well-being of the youth of Zion. My letter is prompted by the recently disseminated pamphlet, For the Strength of Youth.
First of all, I was disappointed to discover that the general tone of the pamphlet
is one of "do's and don't's," with the don't's far outweighing
the do's. While there is certainly a value in providing, particularly
to children, lists of behaviors to do and to avoid, it is also certain
that a more mature level of moral living requires that moral values
be internally appropriated, thus making possible self-motivated moral
synthesis as new situations are encountered. There is little in the
pamphlet which encourages the development of either the virtue of
prudence or of synthetic moral reasoning. The entire moral life seems
to be reduced to obedience to a prefabricated list of rules, most
of which deal with external signs of conformity, such as dress, speech
and overt sexual conduct. These issues, while important in their own
right, are not the "weightier matters of the Law" which
so often preoccupied the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Should
we not begin at an early age to prepare our children for this higher
level of moral discourse? This leads to my second concern.
While the pamphlet is intended to deal with moral standards, by and
large it leaves out precisely those "weightier matters"
which are central to being a follower of Christ, and focuses almost
exclusively on sex, a topic which the Savior in none of the scriptures
found necessary to emphasize. It would appear that the church is now
compensating for his comparative neglect of this subject. What is
the implicit message sent to our youth when, in using this pamphlet
as our guide, we neglect to include those moral issues which the Savior
did focus on, e.g., authenticity, justice, mercy, universal love and
non-judgmental acceptance, embracing the dispossessed and marginalized,
concern for the poor and the needy, and learning to follow the Spirit
and not the letter of the law? By our neglect of these issues, I fear
that we communicate to our youth that these are not the really important
issues, that these are in fact secondary to what is permitted to do
on the Sabbath, how modest or immodest our bathing suits are, and
how close is too close when dancing with a partner. Can this approach
really succeed in equipping young Latter-day Saints to become adult,
responsible morally self-actualized men and women? Or will it, as
seems too often the case, keep them at the level of children waiting
to be told what to do next?
I also must express my dismay at the section dealing with homosexual
behavior, not only for what it says, but for what it leaves unsaid.
At a time when research and statistics demonstrate that gay and lesbian
adolescents suffer from an attempted suicide rate which is by all
measures almost three times the national average of heterosexual teenagers,
it seems irresponsible to the extreme to include the kind of statements
which are found in this pamphlet. Teenagers who are recognizing that
they may be feeling emotional and physical attraction to members of
their same gender need to be supported and affirmed, particularly
when they grow up in a society which actively despises and abuses,
both emotionally and physically, those who have same-sex orientation.
Few teenagers come to this realization with a sense of joy and excitement.
For the great majority, their awakening sexual identity fills them
with the dread and loathing which has been taught them their whole
lives, only now it is directed at their own selves. It is no surprise
that so many of these youth attempt to kill themselves.
While the church no longer seems to be maintaining that the mere fact
of a homosexual identity is itself sinful, the message that homosexual activity remains sinful is very clearly conveyed. In spite of the fact that homosexual orientation is an affectional-psychological-sexual disposition toward one of one's own gender, the pamphlet lumps it together with rape and incest, as if these violent, abusive crimes had anything in common with sincere love. It is particularly ironic that the crimes of rape and incest are almost always committed by heterosexual males. While the pamphlet rightly urges youth to avoid bearing "false witness," the pamphlet itself seems to bear "false witness" by perpetuating the stereotype that all gays and all lesbians are motivated exclusively by lust, and that there do not exist loving, committed, life-enriching, unselfish gays and lesbians, in or out of relationships, as there surely are. If, then, simply being gay or lesbian is no sin, should this not be stated outright, rather than being satisfied with simply condemning the homosexual activity? How many gay and lesbian youth will hear the words of this pamphlet and fail to make this subtle, but necessary distinction? If the activities are an "abomination," then might it not appear to follow that the person who is inclined to same-sex affection is also an abomination? Who will youth turn to when they recognize these same-sex feelings which they are taught to despise? This failure to make these vital distinctions is a great defect of the pamphlet, particularly because of the disastrous effect it could have on gay and lesbian youth.
The pamphlet also seems to imply that homosexual orientation is a matter of making "right choices." Have we as a church not learned by now, after the many failures in reorientation "therapy," that sexual identity is part and parcel of a person's basic identity, and not a choice that someone makes? Do we really want to raise a whole new generation of gay and lesbian LDS youth who feel they are to blame for who they are, and who feel that God has rejected them when he doesn't answer their desperate prayers for a "cure?" If we condemn homosexual activity, thus precluding the possibility of finding a partner with whom to share love and life, what support are we offering? If celibacy is the answer, what hope and guidance is offered on how to remain celibate in a society and church which exalts coupling? How can we lay burdens, like celibacy, on people and then not lift even a finger of hope to show them how to carry them? I fear that this is just what we are doing when we tell people they can change and then offer them prescriptions and cures which simply do not work.
I also take issue with the use of the passage from Romans in condemning homosexual
activity. Is it not obvious from the passage that Paul is dealing
with the immoral actions of heterosexual men who, blinded by
lust, engage in behavior which is contrary to their nature? The context
for Paul's statements is the idolatrous actions of pagans, who confuse
the creature with the Creator. Even the footnotes to the LDS edition
of the Bible make it plain that the "sodomites" were cultic
prostitutes (see p. 289). Ritual prostitution, or blind fornication,
cannot simply be placed on the same moral level with someone whose
sexual orientation is same-gender. By definition, a homosexual is
a person for whom attraction to the same gender is natural, or part
of their circumstance in life. If the men in the passage from Romans
turn from what is "natural" to them, i.e., women, how can
they possibly be homosexuals? What does this passage have to do with
homosexuality, or, for that matter, any of the other passages which
in fact are dealing with cult prostitution or sexual promiscuity?
I'd like to conclude by suggesting a vision of what I would hope
could be included in future church pamphlets on this topic. I would
like to see youth encouraged not to hate or judge themselves if they
find that they are attracted to their own gender. I would like to
see opportunities given where these youth could speak without fear
or shame, knowing that they would be loved and accepted just as they
are. I would like to see an end to the damaging and erroneous images
presented of homosexuals in the church's educational literature, substituting
instead images which validate diversity and inculcate respect. I would
like to see an acknowledgement that the church does not yet have a
complete understanding of homosexuality, and with this, an apology
to the many unfortunate men and women whose lives were made far more
difficult by submitting to these failed, irresponsible experiments
with their sexuality. I would like to see the tone in dealing with
homosexuality changed, from one in which the word itself can barely
be said, to one in which the fact that we are talking about a son
or daughter of God who happens to be homosexual is highlighted. Finally,
I would like to see the church employ its full institutional weight
as a teacher of moral values to issue a public plea for an end to
the abusive, derogatory insults leveled daily against gay and lesbian
persons, condemning at the same time the frightening phenomenon known
as "gay bashing." When gay and lesbian persons have to be
afraid for their very lives simply for being who they are, the fundamental
lesson on love of neighbor as seen in the parable of the Good Samaritan
has certainly not been learned. I believe that what we need, in sum,
is a much more caring, pastoral tone filled less with dire images
and filled more with love and compassion. Such an approach would seem
to me far more consonant with the ministry of Jesus Christ.