From the Pulpit
Truth and Our Understanding of Homosexuality
1991 Affirmation's National Conference -- Palm Springs
By Henry Miller
October 12, 1991
article is presented not only for our benefit, but for the benefit of our
church leaders. It comes not from someone outside the fold, an
anti-Mormon dedicated to tearing down the church, but rather from
someone who very much loves the gospel, who considers himself
to be a follower of Christ, who will stand up for the church as
long as the Spirit confirms the truths it speaks.
As Latter-day Saints, we need to be reminded of the following important
principle: Truth is truth, regardless of the source. I wonder
in amazement when people ask, "Who said it?" and then
judge the truthfulness of the statement on whether the source
is church approved, not on the merits of the statement itself.
This understanding has taken "by their fruits ye shall know
them" and twisted it around the other way: "By them
ye shall know their fruits." In other words, if a church
leader said it, it must be true. I propose that this is a weak
way to come to an understanding of truth. Many will, in fact,
be led away from truth by following this method. Wouldn't it be
more in line with the plan proposed in the pre-existence if we
were to judge truth through confirmation by the Spirit? Blind
obedience was a part of one plan proposed there, but I
feel sure that none of us here endorsed it, or we wouldn't be
here. Why do we have the Spirit if we are never meant to use it?
Why is the sincerity or intent of an individual questioned when
they use this method to judge the words of a church leader? Can
anyone say a church leader's understanding of all truth is perfect,
in any area? They themselves have not, and cannot say that. They,
in fact, have warned against blind obedience and have frequently
encouraged us to study it out for ourselves, praying about it
and then gaining our own testimonies.
Our understanding of truth has evolved over the centuries as new knowledge
becomes available. In these last days, amazing achievements have
been accomplished. Scientific, archaeological, social, political
and philosophical studies are providing remarkable new insights
almost daily. New and rediscovered knowledge has become impossible
to keep up with. If there is one thing that all this knowledge
should be teaching us, it is that we must be continuously open.
Growth is not possible in a closed mind. A seed of knowledge cannot
grow unless we provide for it a fertile ground. Old ideas of right
and wrong, true and false, black and white, are being replaced
or modified. This, in itself, is good. Change has always, and
will always occur, with or without our permission or help. Faced
with new information, we can cling to what we feel is right, in
an attempt to maintain security. Growth, however, will be difficult
if not impossible for such an individual. When the time comes
for change, refusal to move ahead is not a sign of strength but
Sometimes we have to let go; in other words, open up to examining and reexamining
ideas. This is scary, there's no doubt about it. Walking new ground
without the benefit of an experienced guide is hard and for some, impossible. As people of faith, we must remember that there is
One who knows the way. God is the author. He is our guide. The
Spirit can provide us with the assurance that we are treading
on firm ground. I'm sure you will agree, we wouldn't be where
we are today as a church if Joseph Smith had not been open. What
if he had said, "No, this knowledge does not conform to what
I already know to be true. I cannot do as you ask?" We read
in Scripture many times where refusal to accept new truths has
taken place. The appearance of angels and the miraculous signs
in the Old Testament and in the Book of Mormon and the miracles
wrought by Christ in his ministry did not convince anyone who
was closed. Only those who were humble enough to hear and close
enough to the Spirit to feel its confirmation truly understood.
We today will not be ready to receive new truths if we do not prepare
ourselves to receive them. This is not to say that all that we
now hold as truth will eventually fall by the wayside with new
knowledge. Truth is eternal. But our understanding of it has never
been perfect and will continue to evolve. Even if we had God's
"Manual of All Truth," we still would not be able to
comprehend it completely. That's one of the necessary consequences
of being mortal. We cannot know things as God knows them in this
life. Our limited language and the restraints of our culture and
history color and condition what we hear from God. As Frederick
Pack, LDS scientist, in his book, Science and Belief in
God (Deseret News Press, 1924, pp. 206-207, 221) stated,
in describing the ancient Hebrews' pre-scientific world-view,
"Deity cannot make complete explanations until the human
mind has developed to the stage where it is capable of grasping
the full truth." In addition, our self-erected barriers around
what we assume is true, also limit what we are capable of hearing. If we are
ever to prepare for Christ's second coming, we must: stop defining
truth for God; stop judging the truth held by others according
to our understanding of truth, but rather let God be the judge;
be open to the Spirit and follow wherever it may lead, even if
that means going against current practices and teachings of our
political, social, scientific and religious leaders.
Some may wonder if I am suggesting that we can never come to a sure,
unchanging knowledge of truth. The answer may depend on what one
considers a sure knowledge to be. I am suggesting that to equate
our limited expressions of what truth is with the Truth itself
has always been and always will be a shaky venture. I am also
saying that the foundational truths of the gospel provide us with
a light for further knowledge and growth; today's expressions
of truth are not an end in themselves. As Lester Bush has stated,
in his insightful essay on the evolution of church policy toward
reproductive ethics, (Dialogue, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 42-65)
" . . . core beliefs themselves can be modified in accommodating
new knowledge which is simply irreconcilable with the previous
view. This development does not pose as much a challenge to Church
authority as might be supposed. It is in fact a tenet of the Mormon
faith that this sort of refinement periodically will take place."
If there is such a thing as sure knowledge, it most likely comes
only to those who are humble enough to acknowledge that only God
knows the complete picture. Those who are unafraid to say, "I
don't know," are the only ones who can ever find out more.
Those of us who served missions became quite familiar with the
passage in Acts 2:17:
And in the last days, it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my
Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;
yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those says I will pour
out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
My conviction is that this scripture is meant
for us, here, today. Do we believe that the Spirit can even now
use us to help guide the Church to greater truth and knowledge?
I will now turn to one
particular area where I believe we as a church
have yet more truth to discover: homosexuality. One thing that
should be stated right up front is that in all the statements
made by church leaders on homosexuality, not once has the claim
been made that the current position of the church is based on
revelation. It seems clear that we are dealing with a policy,
and not a doctrine of the church. As Lester Bush said in the same
article already cited, "What most often passes for 'doctrine'
within Mormon society is, in reality, a widely held consensus,
perhaps espoused in sermon or print by Mormon General Authorities,
but ultimately without formal sanction by the First Presidency.
In theory, such a consensus is not binding on church members.
In practice, it is not unlikely to change."
We should all recognize that even official statements of church policy
from Salt Lake City are not necessarily eternal truths. Ongoing
changes and reversals demonstrate this. Three cases in point:
- In the 1980 General Handbook the following was stated: Members
who have undergone transsexual operations must be excommunicated.
In the 1983 General Handbook this was modified to read: A change
in a member's sex ordinarily justifies excommunication. (Exceptions
are known to have been made).
- Also, many here may not realise that about a year ago, the
church instructed bishops and stake presidents to work with errant
members and help them to stay in the church, rather than simply
excommunication or disfellowshipping as had been done all too
often in the past.
- Another example is seen in a First Presidency directive on
oral sex in marriage that was given in January 1982. Prior to
this date, counsel on this subject was ambiguous or non-existent.
This directive instructed bishops and stake presidents to deny
temple recommends to couples involved in this practice. In October
of this same year, a follow-up directive was issued which instructed
leaders to avoid inquiring into "personal, intimate matters
involving marital relations between a man and his wife."
Many, many more examples could be given.
The policy which most concerns many of us is the one dealing with
homosexuality. The church historically has dealt with this issue
by encouraging people to repent, i.e., to change their sexual
orientation. These efforts have ranged from electro-shock therapy
to aversion therapy combining drugs and pornography to thought-control
to baseball. Suffice it to state that all of these efforts have
been complete failures. Even among those in the church who once
believed that they had actually succeeded in changing people's
orientations, there are now many who admit that reorientation
is a dead-end street. If the church has the solution to this issue,
it is keeping the secret well-guarded. What it has offered is
simply the repetition of a long-since dismissed panacea which
ignores new truths being discovered in the human sciences as well
as in the experiences of countless gays and lesbians. If "by
their fruits ye shall know them" has any meaning here, it
is clear that the fruit the church has offered its gay and lesbian
members is spoiled.
Many among the straight members of the church remain unconvinced that
there is any need to make the effort to acquire greater light
and knowledge in the area of homosexuality. Similarly, many among
the gay and lesbian community have come to dismiss the church
and see no need to maintain any connections. I believe that both
of these groups of people are missing something. The church loses
when its gay and lesbian members leave. We lose when we cut the
church out of our lives. Why is this so? Because whether it be
out of anger or hurt or ignorance or fear, we run away rather
than work to help the family of God grow. The church has the potential
to be a powerful source for saving lives and for providing inner
strength and self-esteem to its homosexual members. It has the
potential to help overcome the walls of human ignorance that create
barriers between those who are different. This is not the first
time in church history that saints have been called upon to abandon
ancient, but misguided prejudices, and embrace those who were
different. Just look at the New Testament church and the early
members' refusal to accept Gentiles. What would have happened
if the Gentiles had simply said, "Fine, we'll just leave?"
Both Jewish and Gentile members would have lost. The teachings
of Christ on love require a universal acceptance of all, not just
those who fit in. The past treatment of gays and lesbians by the
church, both in what it has said and what it has left unsaid (which
implies approval), falls well short of these teachings of Christ.
Further reasons prompting us to make the effort to open dialogue are AIDS,
the nation-wide increase of hate crimes, and the lives and families
which are destroyed as the result of misguided teachings and practices.
The church, although on the forefront of certain social change
issues in the early part of its history, has sadly become more
and more conservative in recent years. Progressive social issues
of today are routinely ignored and efforts to change for the better
are sometimes even suppressed by the church. This need not be
the goal of a Christ-led people. We could and should be leading
the way toward a more universal application of Christ-like love
and acceptance. The family of God is as diverse as there are members
in it. We need to love and support everyone, with the richness
that they bring with their differences, not in spite of them.
Unfortunately, with regard to gays and lesbians, the church does not meet or
even recognize our needs as valid. Until the church begins providing
for our spiritual, social and emotional needs as much as it does
for anyone else, we must, as adults, learn to meet those needs
ourselves. We cannot and should not expect the church to do everything
for us. L. Tom Perry, spoke about self-reliance in the October
1991 World General Conference. His words have special application
to us in this context: "[God] expects us to be self-reliant
. . . The Lord seldom does for us what we can do for ourselves
. . . Do not rely on anyone other than the Lord." But while
we shouldn't expect the church to meet our needs for us, we should
expect the church not to block us as we try to meet our needs
for ourselves. It is past time that the church ceased encouraging
or allowing negative, hateful stereotypes of homosexuals or homosexuality
to be propagated among its members. It is past time for the church
to hold celibacy as the price its homosexual members must pay
to be accepted, while not requiring celibacy of any other members.
The fact that heterosexual members do not understand the reality
of our situation does not give them licence to treat us as second-class
members of God's family.
Let us not be too impatient with our church leaders or fellow saints.
They have not been blessed with the knowledge with which we have
been. A friend of mine wrote an eloquent description on
the situation in which many of them find themselves. "Certainly
most members of the Church have no hesitancy to judge the desires
of their homosexual brothers' and sisters' hearts as abominable.
Can saints be so smug? Can we be so sure that such desires are
not, as Joseph [Smith] indicated, 'In reality, right, because
God gave and sanctioned by special revelation?' Lest any heterosexual
in the church object that he or she has not received such a special
revelation, remember that 'revelation [is] adapted to the circumstances
in which the children of the kingdom are placed.' Whatever its
roots, and they are probably many intertwining ones, sexual orientation
is a permanent and enduring feature of an individual's personality.
It can certainly be considered one of the 'circumstances' of one's
life. Why, then, would God reveal the proper and righteous use
of homosexual expression to those who are heterosexually inclined?
They haven't been placed in a homosexual circumstance; They have
neither the desire nor the need to know." Our church leaders
and fellow saints, by and large, fit just this description. Unless
and until they gain a desire or need to know, is it reasonable
to expect that they will reach out and embrace us? It is incumbent
upon us to help them gain the desire for greater knowledge. Like
so many other truths, this one may need to be made manifest to
the leaders of the church by those living it on a daily basis.
Then, maybe they will start asking the right questions leading
to a workable relationship between the church and all of
Until that time, let us not sacrifice all that is good in our effort
to forget painful past experiences. Our model in this effort can
be the Saviour himself. As Episcopalian bishop John Spong has
written in his book, Living in Sin?, "Jesus endured
the jeers of his tormentors without any trace of bitterness, defiance,
or recrimination. His being was not changed by hostility and rejection
any more than it was changed by praise. That is a portrait of
freedom, the freedom of one who knows who he or she is and has
the courage to be just that." Likewise, we too must be who
we are, affirming the goodness of our sexual identity, despite
the ignorance and hostility we may encounter.
With the foundational knowledge that God created us and loves us the
way we are, let us be unafraid to share our experience with others.
Spong also reminds us that "one cannot give oneself away
unless there is a self to give, a self that has been claimed,
accepted, and courageously lived out." Take control of your
destiny and work through issues of self-acceptance and self-worth.
Come out to your Bishop. Involve your gay and lesbian companions
and friends in family and social events. Claim the same rights
that our heterosexual counterparts enjoy. Be unafraid to show
appropriate public signs of affection. Become a role model for
the youths in the church who will someday discover their own homosexual
identity. Be an example of Christ-like love in all situations.
It is my prayer that we will feel the spirit speaking the truth about
homosexuality in our lives, and then have the courage to always
live that truth.
— Adapted from a talk delivered at Affirmation's
Conference, October 12, 1991. At that time Henry was an active
member of the Vista California Stake, and served as editor for
the San Diego Chapter of Affirmation's newsletter.