FAIR Examination 1a: Why would a gay man with AIDS join the Church?

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Steven Wilson is a member of the Church living in the San Francisco Bay area. Twenty years ago, he was introduced to the Church by a recently returned missionary he met in a gay bar. The two eventually moved in together and during the next seven years, Steven developed addictions, contracted AIDS and became severely depressed. As Steven’s condition worsened and he began to feel that he was going to die, he turned to an in-depth investigation of the Church.

This is his story about how he joined the Church, and eventually became an ordinance worker at the Oakland Temple. He is now happy and no longer experiences temptations with same gender attraction. He was baptized by the same returned missionary that first introduced him to the Church and with whom he has lived for the past 20 years. During the past 13 years of active Church membership, the two men have maintained a close bond of love, friendship and brotherhood within the gospel. He attributes his success in overcoming same gender attraction and his addictions to the Church’s 12 Step Addiction Recovery Program and to the atonement of Jesus Christ. He shares his thoughts on gay marriage, President Packer’s October, 2010 Conference talk, and his strong testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This is the first part of a two part interview.

68 thoughts on “FAIR Examination 1a: Why would a gay man with AIDS join the Church?

  1. Alan

    Joshua, what would you do if one day you got fired from a Mormon institution, and you’re pretty sure it was because you’re gay?

    Would you like to have legal recourse in the matter? Or are you okay with trying to resolve the situation through the Church’s ecclesiastical system? There is still a great deal of homophobia in the civil law system, but I’d expect a lot more in Mormon circles. I’m confident that eventually the courts will decide that even Mormons have a right to not be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation, and if that means that, consequently, Mormons can’t fire and kick to the curb other Mormons who are in same-sex relationships, well, tough luck.

  2. Mr. Willie Johnson

    Wow, two men who met in a gay bar have lived together for the last 20 years in heterosexual bliss. I wonder who usually gets home first when these two guys are out on dates with their girlfriends. How cool that two men can meet at a gay bar, move in together for 20 years and yet live exemplary heterosexual lives where each of them is clearly involved with women and, therefore, showing the world that gay men can indeed pray away the gay. By the way, please follow up this story with interviews of the women these guys are dating or otherwise involved with. I’m sure those women would gladly speak about how great it is to be dating either of these clearly heterosexual men. Yesssireee Bob!

  3. fiona64

    Steve Densley wrote: Gay men also exhibit “higher rates of suicide, depression, bulimia, [and] antisocial personality disorder.” http://www.narth.com/docs/whitehead.html.

    Sir, I’m very disappointed to see you quote a discredited organization … and specifically one which was told to stop misrepresenting the research cited here. Intellectually dishonest, sir.

  4. Joshua Johanson

    Mr. Willie,

    I don’t Steven is saying he is heterosexual.

    Alan,

    I don’t think anyone should be “kicked to the curb”, but if someone cannot perform their job, then I don’t think the employer should be obligated to keep them on the payroll.

    A truck driver needs to know how to drive a truck. If he gets his license taken away because he doesn’t know how to never drive drunk, then I think the employer is justified in letting him go.

    Likewise, an instructor at an Institute of religion or at the MTC needs to know how to follow the Mormon faith. If they don’t know how, they can’t do their job. How is an instructor at the MTC going to teach missionaries how to help people like Steven repent and be baptized if the instructor himself is having gay sex? It just doesn’t work.

    If an instructor at the MTC has sex with his girlfriend, the Church can fire him for “being straight”. Why then should they not be able to fire an instructor at the MTC for having sex with HER girlfriend?

    Religious exemption make sense because their job entails a certain amount of religious observance. I don’t care if the person bagging my groceries or making my computer chip or whatever is having gay sex. But I do care if I sign up for an institute class, and I find out that my institute teacher is out having gay sex while trying to teach the importance of overcoming the natural man. I wouldn’t want to kick the institute teacher to the curb, but I wouldn’t want to take an institute class from her either.

    I think the church is very well aware that the legal system may interpret having a homosexual orientation as born to have gay sex. I don’t think they agree with it, but they are aware. It was smart of them to seek a religious exemption so that they can hire religious instructors who are capable of doing their job. That is an important part of religious freedom.

  5. Alan

    I was specifically referring to a situation where someone is following the faith (they’re celibate or in a mixed-orientation marriage, such as yourself), but a higher up doesn’t think it’s “appropriate” for that someone who is “gay” to be in a given position — so they use their influence to get them released. But as usual, you sidestepped what I was saying and made it about the “evils of gay sex.”

    The legal system doesn’t interpret having a homosexual orientation as “born to have gay sex.” It’s more about the fact that anti-sodomy laws are illegal because citizens have a right to privacy in the bedroom (as per Lawrence vs Texas in 2003, such that targeting gay sex is not legally acceptable). The fact the Church asked for exemption in the SLC ordinances tells me that the Church doesn’t agree with a right to privacy in the bedroom. The Church got out of its marrieds’ bedrooms in the 1990s. I think it’s time they got out of queer bedrooms, too.

  6. Nick Literski

    Joshua, I can’t help but chuckle at how you keep rephrasing and/or attempting to shed doubt on the Supreme Court’s statements on this matter.

    Back in 2003, Justice O’Conner wrote a concurring opinion in LAWRENCE v. TEXAS. That case stemmed from a Texas law making sodomy between persons of the same sex (but not opposite sex couples) illegal. While this was a criminal case, the logic has guided subsequent civil decisions by the Supreme Court. You will note, from Justice O’Conner’s statement, that the State of Texas attempted to make the same distinction you are claiming. http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=CASE&court=US&vol=539&page=558
    In agreeing that gay persons had a Constitutional right to engage in private consensual sexual behavior with persons of the same sex, Justice O’Conner explained:

    “Texas argues, however, that the sodomy law does not discriminate against homosexual persons. Instead, the State maintains that the law discriminates only against homosexual conduct. While it is true that the law applies only to conduct, the conduct targeted by this law is conduct that is closely correlated with being homosexual. Under such circumstances, Texas’ sodomy law is targeted at more than conduct. It is instead directed toward gay persons as a class. ‘After all, there can hardly be more palpable discrimination against a class than making the conduct that defines the class criminal.’ Id., at 641 (Scalia, J., dissenting) (internal quotation marks omitted). When a State makes homosexual conduct criminal, and not ‘deviate sexual intercourse’ committed by persons of different sexes, ‘that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres.’ Ante, at 14.”

    In 2010, writing for the majority in CHRISTIAN LEGAL SOCIETY CHAPTER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, HASTINGS COLLEGE
    OF THE LAW, AKA HASTINGS CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP v. MARTINEZ.
    http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-1371.pdf , Justice Ginsberg also responded to the sort of argument you’re making:

    “Our decisions have declined to distinguish between status and conduct in this context. See Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U. S. 558, 575 (2003) (“When homosexual conduct is made criminal by the law of the State, that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination.” (emphasis added)); id., at 583 (O’Connor,J., concurring in judgment) (“While it is true that the law applies only to conduct, the conduct targeted by this law isconduct that is closely correlated with being homosexual. Under such circumstances, [the] law is targeted at more than conduct. It is instead directed toward gay persons as a class.”); cf. Bray v. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic, 506 U. S. 263, 270 (1993) (“A tax on wearing yarmulkes is a tax on Jews.”). See also Brief for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., et al. as Amici Curiae 7–20.”

    I assume that you understand the basic concept that the Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States, and that other courts must follow their precedent. Now that you’ve been shown their rulings on the matter, kindly stop pretending that this legal principle is mere theory.

  7. Joshua Johanson

    Alan,

    I do not want to be fired from a Mormon institution because of my same-sex attractions. I realize that can happen because we are all humans. However, I do not trust the legal system to “protect” me because I don’t trust the legal system. So no, I don’t want legal recourse in this matter given the current state of our legal system. The negative ramifications of such a law is more than just “tough luck”.

    “But as usual, you sidestepped what I was saying and made it about the “evils of gay sex.””

    To me, it is more of a matter of the ability to do their job. Let’s try a different example. In general, I don’t think someone should be fired for being Mormon. However, even in that I think there should be a religious exception. If someone is, let’s say a Baptist minister, then I do think they should be fired for converting to Mormonism. It isn’t that I am talking about the “evils of Mormonism”. It is just that I don’t think a Mormon could do a good job explaining to the congregation why Jesus and God are really physically one, or that they are saved once they accept Christ as their personal Savior. Being Mormon conflicts with being a Baptist minister, and they have every right to fire us. It is the inability of a Mormon religious instructor to teach people how to live the law of chastity when they don’t know how to keep it themselves that prohibits them from being an effective Mormon religious instructor. It doesn’t mean they aren’t a good person, it just means they don’t know how to do that particular job.

    Can you answer a few questions for me?

    You said it is “tough luck” that the Mormon church can’t fire someone for gay sex if the religious exemption weren’t there.

    Do you think that the Mormon Church should have the right to fire an unmarried Mormon religious teacher for having straight sex?

    Do you think that the Mormon Church should have the right to fire a Mormon religious teacher for having gay sex?

    If not, is it because you think having them break the law of chastity has no effect on their ability to teach students how to live the law of chastity, or is it because you don’t think that should be a part of the job requirements in the first place?

    “The Church got out of its marrieds’ bedrooms in the 1990s. I think it’s time they got out of queer bedrooms, too.”

    Well, I only have one bedroom. I am not a Mormon for them to tell me that I am perfect the way I am and that I don’t need to change. I am Mormon in part because they teach me what I need to do in order to qualify myself for the Holy Ghost and live with God again. The Mormon church teaches we are all sinners and repentance is a requirement for all of us. To say gay people can’t participate in that repentance would be to discriminate against gay people.

    I feel closer to the spirit when I am sexual with my wife than when I am sexual with a man. That is the way it works with me. I am thankful for the teachings of the church. Steven says he is grateful for the law of chastity. Many people with SSA are grateful for the law of chastity.

    If you take away the law of chastity from the Church, you take away a very dear and precious part of the church. That would not be fair to Steven and many other people in same-sex relationships like he was in who will yet find comfort in the law of chastity as he has.

    The law of chastity is there precisely to help people in same-sex relationships.

  8. SteveDensleyJr Post author

    Fiona64,

    Your comment smacks of ad hominem and probably violates FAIR’s comment policy in making a personal attack against me in accusing me of intellectual dishonesty. Nevertheless, I’ll respond.

    I’ve never heard that NARTH has been discredited. You seem to assume that the best data I could find that supported the assertion that gay men exhibit higher rates of depression is an organization that, in your view, has been discredited, and that I went out of my way to use its data. In fact, I just did a quick Google search and posted the most pertinent article I could find as fast as I could. It is not really hard to find information supporting my assertion. After reading your comment, I tried to look for another source that you might accept and found the New York Department of Health’s website: http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/aids/facts/helpful_resources/lgbt/gay_men_health_concerns.htm

    It indicates that not only that “Depression and anxiety appear to affect gay men at a higher rate than the general population.” But also, men who have gay sex stand an increased risk of HIV infection, substance abuse, hepatitis infection, prostate, testicular, anal and colon cancer, higher rates of alcohol dependence, much higher rates of tobacco use, and are “much more likely to experience an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia.”

  9. Alan

    Joshua, like I said, it’s clear the Church doesn’t agree with the principle of freedom of privacy in the bedroom. That is why it feels it has a right to fire people on the basis of the intimate relationships they form, regardless of gender. For the Church, God is everywhere, including in the bedroom — including non-Mormon bedrooms. As you put it, there’s also this notion that everyone is a sinner, and even non-Mormon gay people should be “allowed to participate in repentance.”

    Basically the Church is demonstrating its lack of a capacity to co-exist within a pluralist society on this issue. It finds itself at odds with its surroundings. “Religious exemptions” are a last ditch effort to try to affect the whole, but the way I see it “religious exemptions” represent a piece of the Church that is already broken when set alongside the rest of society, a brokenness that amounts to more than just its stance on “gay sex.”

    In the end, it’s going to be up to the Church to decide whether their way of funneling people into a particular family form with particular gendered dynamics is worth the dissonance the Church as a whole will experience as time goes on. I know it feels like society is invading Mormonism (it felt that way in the 1970s on the issue black ordination), but it’s really just a matter of cultural dissonance on the question of gender. Boyd Packer warned in the 1990s about “feminists, gays and intellectuals,” and well, that “threat” hasn’t disappeared in the slightest.

    Each new generation of Mormons is born into the dissonance, and they do something with it to try to alleviate it. For example, I see BYU students now having discussions about how a child raised by a gay couple is not necessarily in a bad position, as these students are convinced by sociological research that gay parents can be good parents. At some point, it may be the case that the “sin” truly becomes understood as us “all being sinners,” as you say, rather than it being treated as a special case that would prevent someone from taking sacrament or whatever. The presence of more same-sex couples at Mormon services would raise tough questions regarding the theological relationship between women and men, once enough conversations were had. This might sound nonsensical and harmful to you, but obviously queer families are not going to start attending Mormon services if there’s an atmosphere of people thinking their families are sinful or lesser than; so, I wouldn’t waste my breath creating a illusion that the Church is welcoming for these families. The Church has every right not to make them feel welcome, but again, it is finding itself at odds with the rest of society.

  10. Joshua Johanson

    Alan,

    I think your version of a pluralistic society is not pluralistic at all. In a pluralistic society you will have different views from different people. There will people who are having gay sex who want to continue having gay sex and there will be those who want help getting out of that lifestyle. A pluralistic society will have options for both. The Church teaches we are free to choose. Your solution will prohibit the Church from helping people make lifestyle choices. Your scenario only allows for gay people who want to have gay sex. It ignores the needs of gay people who do not want to have gay sex. The Church grants agency while you take it away. That is not pluralistic at all.

    This podcast is a perfect example of why the Church needs to continue to exist and help people like Steven find peace.

    Nick,

    It isn’t that I don’t understand the Supreme Court decision. It is that I disagree with it.

    If it is “conduct that defines the class”, as O’Conner asserts, then being gay is a choice, and I choose not to be gay, and being gay should not have any additional privileges than any other lifestyle choices.

  11. Nick Literski

    Joshua,
    Your disagreement with the Supreme Court of the United States is every bit as consequential as the actions of a toddler who puts his hands over his ears and screams, not wanting to hear his parents’ instructions. I’m not calling you a toddler by any means, but rather pointing out that your “disagreement” doesn’t change established civil law under the United States Constitution. The Framers empowered the Supreme Court to act as the highest judicial body in the nation. The Framers did not empower any church, nor even Joshua Johanson, to create binding interpretations of civil law.

    Furthermore, your attempted analysis of Justice O’Conner’s words is unsupported and illogical. In particular, your partisan claim that gays and lesbians are seeking “additional privileges” not granted to other citizens is an outright falsehood. Perhaps you’ve seen cynical religious types claim that gays and lesbians have “the same rights as heterosexuals–to marry someone of the OPPOSITE sex.” Such rhetoric attempts to characterize marriage equality as a “special right” for gays and lesbians (only) to marry someone of the same sex. In reality, however, that’s not the case at all. Where civil marriage equality is the law of the land, a heterosexual person has the legal right to marry a person of the same sex–just like religious types note that a gay person has the legal right to marry a person of the opposite sex. Marriage equality is just that—the EQUAL right of all citizens to marry the consenting adult of their choice, regardless of that person’s biological sex.

  12. Joshua Johanson

    Nick,

    I think you are reading a lot into my “additional privileges” statement that just isn’t there. I also don’t think by saying I disagree with the Supreme Court that I am saying I have the authority to create binding interpretations of civil law.

  13. Nathan000000

    I must admit I’m inclined to agree with Joshua about the Supreme Court decision, and for the same reasons. Saying that the decision is binding does not address whether it is wise, just, moral, or desirable.

    Nick, I’m interested in the way you framed marriage equality. If I understand you correctly, you acknowledge that in the absence of same-sex marriage, both heterosexuals and homosexuals have equal rights, and in the presence of same-sex marriage, both heterosexuals and homosexuals also have equal rights. Both legal situations consist of both orientations having the same options and rights. Legalizing same-sex marriage does not give homosexuals a right that previously only heterosexuals had; it gives both groups the same additional option or right, which neither held previously. Am I understanding you correctly?

    I ask because I completely agree with that way of framing it. I wish more advocates of same-sex marriage would understand that and stop using the argument that they want the same rights that heterosexuals have. That argument makes no sense, and I wish more people realized that.

  14. Nick Literski

    Nathan, I really appreciate your comment, in part because it points out how the way in which we communicate something makes a big difference in whether others are able to hear and understand.

    What you’ve summarized is essentially correct, except that I would add one factor. Having the legally-recognized right to do something you find abhorrent doesn’t mean much to you. While it’s true that a gay or lesbian person has the legally-recognized right in every state to marry a person of the opposite sex, it’s a useless right for them. Perhaps that’s why many supporters of marriage equality see the issue as “heterosexuals have the right to marry the person they love, and homosexuals don’t have that right.”

    Imagine that you lived in a fundamentalist Islamic state, where the LDS church was not legally recognized, and membership therein was prohibited by law. A devout Muslim might say that you have the “same legally-recognized right” that every other citizen does–the right to be a Muslim. The right to be a Muslim, however, isn’t going to hold much value for an LDS person. An LDS person wants the legal right to worship whoever, whatever, and however they are guided by their own conscience. To an LDS person in such a circumstance, Muslims would have the right to freedom of worship, while that right was denied to LDS persons.

    I think it’s more clear to describe marriage equality as the right to marry the consenting adult of your choice, regardless of their biological sex. In states like Massachussetts, where marriage equality is the law of the land, every citizen has the right to marry a person of the opposite sex, even if they’d never want to do so, and every citizen has the right to marry a person of the same sex, even if they’d never want to do so. Some will choose to exercise the right to marry a person of the opposite sex, and not exercise the right to marry a person of the same sex. Likewise, some will choose to exercise the right to marry a person of the same sex, and not exercise the right to marry a person of the opposite sex. In the end, nobody ends up with a “special” right that’s denied to others, and everyone is treated equally under the civil law.

  15. Alan

    Nathan, an individual person does not apply for a marriage license. The civil rights of marriage are afforded to couples. In most US states, same-sex couples are not afforded the same marriage rights as opposite-sex couples. So, I fail to see how it is an “additional” right. It’s more like an already existent right has not been afforded when it should be. Or, alternatively, the government should not afford “rights” to any couples.

    Joshua, when you say you disagree with the Supreme Court decision, are saying that you think it is appropriate to jail people for sodomy? Because that’s what “conduct defines the class” is referring to in reference to gay sex, gay orientation and criminality. I’m going to have to agree with Nick that your bemoaning of the current situation is not helpful to your cause, mostly because I think you’re just lashing out at what doesn’t feel good to you rather than having a solid grasp of how these things have come to pass. With Lawrence vs Texas and the right to privacy (as opposed to being jailed for sodomy), I actually would not exactly consider that to be an inherently “gay agenda”-based decision. Rather, what it does is prevent society from being allowed to invade all people’s private spaces, thereby making gay sex more permissible in private. Religious communities are unhappy with the decision, because they still want to be able to punish those who have gay sex, oust them from their communities, for example, the way they think God will (or something). I’ve read Mormons (like Orson Scott Card) take the position that sodomy should remain criminal just to remind everyone how evil gay sex is.

    Perhaps you’d like the Church to move its HQ to a country that is less gay-friendly so that the Church can continue to insist that homosexual relations are an abomination and where the public reacts to this affirmatively? You could move there yourself so that you wouldn’t have to deal with people asking for a right to be treated equally and fairly. You wouldn’t have to deal with the “threat” this request for fairness and equality poses to your Church and your own self-identity.

    Meanwhile, I like to being allowed to hold my partner’s hand in public. It’s hard for me to sympathize with you asking for “additional” considerations for those who don’t want to have gay sex given the history of violence in this country toward those who are same-sex attracted or have dared to be intimate with the same-sex. I’d appreciate if you’d think about this violence every time you have something disparaging to say about the “gay agenda.” Ask yourself whether you’re contributing to that violence with your insistence the “law of chastity is here precisely to help people in same-sex relationships.” Actually, the law of chastity forbids same-sex relationships. It considers them dead on arrival. There’s a big difference.

  16. Phil

    Wow. This thread has gone nuts and way off topic. It seems we have many philosophical thinkers on here and that has made it…interesting. To address the author of Ockham’s Razor (Alan) on here: the Church, in my experience, has been far more lenient than you might think on this issue. And yes, while this may sound incredibly extremist to you, the freedom of religion needs to stay so that people within religious groups who make such covenants NOT to do things like that are handled as we see fit. And again, from experience, they are done with good intentions (yes, really) as well as with compassion and caring. The film Latter Days is not representative of reality at all in this case. I don’t think you were perhaps referencing it in any way, just throwing it out there as an example.

    Also, maybe I seem awfully thin-skinned, but writing “the way they think God will (or something)” is disrespectful to us who believe in the Church and His teachings. I don’t like to usually make legal arguments in the is case, which is why I stick to normative (a moral analysis, if you will), and believe that marriage is a commitment and a privilege and that there are certain things that would qualify a couple for one. I know I will probably get savaged for this comment too, in particular for not being very specific, but I stand by it.

    Finally, here’s something that would help the gay community get more respect from someone like myself, who is gay but has chosen a different path and is following it. You want our respect? Then earn it. While I will concede the fact that yes, there has been violence in the past against gays (and that there still is some today), the gay community needs to buck up as well. I saw a lot of hate from the anti-Prop 8 crowd and I lost a lot of respect for them for the way they treated their opponents. You have the right to angry and frustrated, but that does not excuse running over people on the corner of Powell and Market, harassing a woman with a cross, or certain campaigns with names that I cannot say on this forum.

    People like Joshua Johanson and myself have been to some pretty awful places in our lives that we don’t wish to go back to. Maybe some of the things we say don’t make a lot or any sense at all to you. However, there is one thing that I do think we all should remember:

    “The heart has its reasons that reason cannot know.” -Blaise Pascal

    Now, can we please get back to the topic of this particular podcast?

  17. SteveDensleyJr Post author

    Phil is right that this discussion has strayed from a focus on the podcast itself. I have been very lenient in enforcing FAIR’s commenting policy, but I am afraid that at this point I need to tighten up on enforcement and prevent the posting of non-germane comments.

  18. Davester

    Many of the earlier questions that were posted about Steven and Kenneth are answered in the podcast. It seems some people did not listen before making queries.

    At the end of the first podcast the issue of exaltation came up. On that matter I prefer to think of things in the way we think about women who never marry because they were never asked or never found the right man (e.g., Sherry Dew). And what about men who marry women who were previously sealed but lost their husbands through death? Will such a man be denied exaltation simply because he married a woman who was previously sealed to another man? I don’t believe so. In the same way, a gay man who never married in this life because he was never attracted to the opposite sex will not likely be denied exaltation in the eternities. I believe he will have the opportunity to be sealed to a woman in the afterlife.

    A very interesting podcast. Thanks, FAIR.

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