Category Archives: Homosexuality

Book Review: A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine & Church History

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Available from the FairMormon bookstore at 20% off

Available from the FairMormon bookstore at 20% off

In the prologue of A Reason for Faith, the editor, Laura Hales, lays out the purpose of the book. Members of the church sometimes come across new information in an unfriendly setting that damages their faith. This book is a compilation of articles about many of the topics that are not often discussed in a church or family setting, and can be difficult to understand. They are laid out by scholars in an honest but faithful manner, and while they can’t possibly cover the topics completely in the amount of space given, they are meant to be a springboard for further study where necessary.

The first chapter is by Richard Bushman, on “Joseph Smith and Money Digging.” He recounts the history of scholarship in this area, where it was originally denied by those inside the church due to being based on accounts thought to be unreliable published by critics of the church. As he began his own research, he found evidence that convinced him that Joseph was indeed involved with folk magic and seer stones, and that these things were too common in the 19th century to invalidate Joseph’s prophetic claims or be scandalous. Continue reading

Some Mistaken Claims Associated with the Church’s Policies Regarding Same-Sex Marriage

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priesthood-blessing-37771-galleryIt has been a volatile and emotional few days since the leak of new Church policies regarding same-sex marriage and children being raised in such marriages. We have discussed those matters already, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Twelve has explained some of their rationale as well. The First Presidency also recently released further details.

Many are understandably emotional, and their compassion and concern reflects well upon them. Some questions will probably be addressed only on a case-by-case basis by the First Presidency.

Many “sound bite” or “bumper sticker” complaints on this topic have appeared on social media and elsewhere. Many of these reflect serious misunderstandings or distortions of LDS scriptures and doctrine. Few answers can come if we begin from inaccurate starting-points or assumptions.

We here review and correct a few of the most common.
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A Look at the Church’s New Policy on Children of Gay Couples

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The Church recently confirmed some changes to its Handbook of Instructions provided to bishops and stake presidents. The Handbook prescribes doctrines, policies, and procedures for administering the Church and serving members.

The changes are three-fold:

  • Those who enter into a same-sex marriage are considered apostate, and will need to undergo Church discipline possibly resulting in disfellowshipment or excommunication;
  • Local leaders should seriously consider Church discipline against members cohabitating in same-sex relationships but not married;
  • Minor children in same-sex households are not to be baptized into the Church until they reach adulthood At that point they must understand and accept the Church’s doctrine regarding the sinfulness of same-sex acts and marriages in order to be baptized

The first two points can hardly be surprising—homosexual acts have long been grounds for Church discipline. The only change is placing same-sex marriage in the category of apostasy, which requires that disciplinary action be taken.

The third point has led many to mistaken claims, including:

  • The Church is making minor children whose parents are in same-sex marriages “apostates”;
  • The Church is “punishing” children for their parents’ sins.

These conclusions reflect unfamiliarity with the important considerations the Church must take into account when working with children and families.

The Church has long honored parental authority

No minor child may be taught or baptized without the consent of his or her parents. Thus, the Church defends the parents’ authority and the parent-child relationship even in a matter—baptism—which the Church regards as ultimately essential for salvation.

Furthermore, the Church does not believe that a child who cannot receive baptism because of their parents’ action will be condemned. All have a full and free opportunity—either in this life, or in the next through vicarious temple ordinances—to accept the gospel. Others cannot prevent this forever. But, in some cases, a child must wait to be baptized if the parents’ actions make it necessary.

Standards the same for children in polygamous families

The policies regarding children with same-sex married parents is the same as that for children whose parents are in polygamous relationships. In both cases, the children cannot be baptized while they are minors living in such circumstances. They must also both be interviewed carefully to confirm that they understand and accept the Church’s doctrine on same-sex relationships or unauthorized plural marriage.

It would be inappropriate and unfair for the Church to expect minor children to cope with the issue of divided loyalties. All children need the support of a family. Ideally, that support should be provided by a married mother and father. Some children do not have that advantage, but it is still important that the Church does not undermine a polygamist family’s relationship between parents and child, or a same-sex couple’s relationship with a child they are parenting.

To baptize a minor child in such a situation would be to put the child in a difficult position. Those who choose to be baptized must wholeheartedly endorse the Church’s doctrines and principles. Yet, children whose parents are in a same-sex marriage would be told at home that their parents’ marriage was valid and a model to follow; at Church they would hear that the marriage was invalid and deeply sinful. At best, this could be confusing; at worst, it risks alienating the child from to parental figures.

The Church is trying to balance the importance of baptism with the importance of family harmony and relationships. A child of parents in same-sex relationships might not be able to easily reconcile the love he feels for his parents with the teachings at church that the parents’ relationship is sinful. It takes maturity to be able to love and respect others whom we believe to be acting wrongly. When the child reaches adulthood, and is ready to make the mature choice to make covenants that require renouncing his parent’s (or parents’) lifestyle, and accept all of the challenges and implications of that choice, the time will be right for baptism.

Were the Church to do otherwise, its critics and detractors would likely complain that it was undermining parents’ authority or depriving the minor member child of the benefits of family life by teaching against same-sex acts and same-sex marriage.

Protecting the Church from those who would manipulate it

Those who are the members of polygamist groups have also, on occasion, sought to have their children join the Church in order to access temple ordinances. Thus, parents may occasionally push children into Church membership to achieve goals of their own, and not out of sincere belief.

In a similar way, it is conceivable that at least a few same-sex parents might seek to use a child’s baptism as a way to make a political point in the media, or gain leverage over a local Church unit’s handling of their same-sex relationship.

Children and local Church leaders should not be put in such a position, and so the Church’s policy protects both.

Decisions ultimately made by the First Presidency

The decision whether to baptize adult children of same-sex married parents will not be made by local leaders. Local leaders can only recommend a course of action to the First Presidency. Such situations can be messy and complex; guidelines and policies probably cannot capture all the various circumstances or complications that will arise in a pluralistic society with widely differing views of marriage. The decision in all such cases will be made by the First Presidency, and not left to the sole discretion of local leaders.

This will help ensure uniformity among similar cases Church-wide, and also assure that those who make the decisions—the First Presidency—have the widest possible base of experience upon which to draw. As time goes on, as Church leaders seek to address individual cases, they will likely improve in their understanding of what best suits the needs of the child, the parents, and the Church.

Front Page News Review Podcast #9 – Week of May 24th, 2015

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FairMormon’s Front Page News Review is a podcast where we provide context and analysis of the past week’s media coverage of Mormons and the LDS church. Hosted by Nick Galieti and manager of the FairMormon Front Page news service, Cassandra Hedelius.

What we present is not to be understood as being the official position of FairMormon or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We speak for ourselves, and sometimes not even then.

This week’s news stories:

http://www.laobserved.com/archive/2015/05/mormon_temple_finally_emb.php

http://www.sltrib.com/news/2538827-155/boy-scouts-leader-says-ban-on

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/22/mormons-more-likely-to-marry-have-more-children-than-other-u-s-religious-groups/

DON’T FORGET! Get your Early-Bird FairMormon Conference Tickets now!

On August 6 & 7 we will be having our FairMormon conference at the Utah Valley Convention center.

To register click here http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/conf15a and scroll down the the conference registration.

Speakers this year include Margaret Barker, Ed Pinegar, Stephen Webb , Brant Gardner, Ron Dennis, Brittany Chapman, David Larsen, Jim Gordon, Laura Hales, Cassandra Hedelius, Paul Reeve, and, Dan Peterson.

Topics include:

History and Historicity in the Book of Mormon

Faith and Scholarship

How to help young Latter-day Saints

Why Mormon materialism matters

Joseph Smith Polygamy

Challenges to church legitimacy

And more.

We have both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars this year speaking about Mormon topics, so this conference is one that you don’t want to miss.

Sign up at this link: http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/conf15a

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RiseUp Podcast – Interview with Rod Olson

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In this episode of RiseUp, Nick Galieti interviews Rod Olson in a very candid discussion of the challenges of living an active LDS lifestyle while identifying as being homosexual (or what some describe Same Sex Attraction.)

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Born and raised in Northern California, Rod was introduced to the Church as a young child through his mother, who became a member following his parents’ divorce.  Rod served a full-time mission in Houston, Texas, studied musical theater at BYU (where he was a member of the Young Ambassadors as well as an instructor at the Missionary Training Center), and performed professionally on the stage in New York City.  After a 13-year hiatus, during which time he worked in New York and Los Angeles in the brand development and shipping logistics industries, Rod retured to his entertainment roots and is now a producer in Los Angeles.

Rod realized early in life that he was gay, and at 10 years of age, unbeknownst to his mother, made an appointment to talk about it with his Bishop.  As he matured, Rod knew that his homosexuality was not going away. He eventually came out to his parents and spent a decade pursuing short- and long-term relationships with men. Toward the end of this period of self-discovery, Rod fell into addiction. It stripped him of everything—love, relationships, career, friends, money, health, and even hope.  With nowhere to turn, Rod entered a 12-step program for gay addicts that, along with the gospel, he credits with saving his life.

Rod has been sober for nine years and active in the Church for eight.  Since returning to full activity, Rod has served as executive secretary to three bishops, in an Elders’ Quorum presidency, as stake Public Affairs Director and as a Gospel Doctrine instructor.  He currently serves as Ward Mission Leader, a Priesthood teacher at the Los Angeles Federal Prison, as well as a veil worker at the Los Angeles Temple.

Click here to watch Rod Olson’s presentation at a special NorthStar LDS Fireside.

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RiseUp Podcast – The H Word

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In this episode of RiseUp, Nick Galieti interviews a Young Women from Southern Californa named Mikalya.

Mikayla’s parents were members so she was born into the church and baptized when she was 8. But it wasn’t until she turned 13 that she really dove into the gospel. Before that, she was relatively inactive for a few years. She now lives in Southern California where she is currently the Laurel Class President but because her ward is so small, she is effectively the overall Young Women’s Class President. She loves to play guitar, but is not good enough to consider myself anything beyond a beginner. She loves to read, especially anything that involves history, fiction, or both. She love to write and currently writes for her school newspaper and designs a page of the newspaper. She also loves to draw, but her skills are limited to Disney Characters and Looney Toons. She comes on the RiseUp podcast to talk about a poem she wrote for an online contest where she declared her experience as a member of the Church defending  traditional marriage. Here is the poem she submitted and the original link for the poem:

The “H Word”

“Did you know he’s a homophobe?”

I froze.

It felt like one of those moments in movies where

Time

Stood

Still.

Yet emotions, thoughts, and feelings hit me at 3×10^8 meters per second.

I’m not one to swear.

I never liked the anger and harshness associated with the words,

Didn’t like the feeling of such unnecessary words rolling off my tongue,

Nor did I enjoy the taste they left behind.

Yet those words no longer gave me

The strange jolt-in-your-chest feeling

That young children get

When they’re young enough to feel uncomfortable at the sound of an infrequently heard “bad word”,

Yet old enough to know it’s bad.

Those words, though I still discouraged the use of them,

Didn’t have the same effect on me

As this “H word” did.

This “H word”, used so casually, carried heavy baggage of hatred.

I knew the “he” they spoke of.

I knew his name, his face,

And I knew his church,

Because his church was my church too

And I had an idea why people might give him such a label.

His church, my church, our church

Did not support gay marriage,

And to some people, wearing a BYU sweatshirt

Or an “I’m a Mormon” pin

Was equivalent to putting an “I supported Prop 8” sign on your back.

And this wasn’t always okay.

This feeling isn’t always there, out in the open,

But it’s never gone.

It’s hiding somewhere in the corner of the room, and comes into the light

When you hear that another state legalized gay marriage

And the person next to you turns toward you and says

“Doesn’t your church hate gay people?”

And whether or not there’s a joking undertone or a serious air to their voice,

It feels like time freezes as their words hit you,

Yet the clock ticks faster as you scramble for the right words.

Because how you explain to this person, whether they be a stranger, acquaintance, or friend,

Whether they be joking or absolutely serious,

That your church doesn’t support gay marriage because of biblical reasons

Without pulling out the bible and throwing out religious doctrine.

And how do you explain to them that just as it says in the Bible that marriage is between a man and a woman,

It says to love thy neighbor,

Whoever they are, whatever they believe

And that you don’t see why people assume that you can’t love someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender

As much as someone who isn’t

And simultaneously not agree with gay marriage?

How do you incorporate that your uncle is gay

And happily married to a great man

To provide the ethos-influenced evidence that your English teacher praises in arguments

To show that even though your church doesn’t support gay marriage,

You’re still capable of being happy that your uncle is happy

Because you love him so much?

How do you emphasize that you’ve met people

Who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender

And absolutely great people?

Because that’s exactly what they are.

People.

How do you tell them that there’s much more to not supporting gay marriage

Than is shown on the surface.

That it runs deeper and intertwines with doctrine and beliefs

That rest close to your heart.

And that no matter how unpopular they may seem,

You believe them without a doubt.

I don’t remember how I responded to the statement phrased as a question

That labeled a fellow church goer as “a homophobe”

After I unfroze and my emotions, thoughts, and feelings

Slowed

Down.

I don’t remember if I shrugged in an uninterested way that changed the subject,

Or if I looked up and tried to give a Spark Notes-worthy explanation

Of what “he” and I believed

Without seeming like a religious fanatic

Or if I asked the reasons for distributing such a label.

I don’t remember if we were sitting outside with a group of friends,

Sunlight streaming through nearby trees,

Or talking alone in a crowded classroom lit by fluorescent lights.

But I do remember looking down at my shoes at the end of the school day,

Perched on the edge of the sidewalk, waiting to cross

With music blasting through my earbuds

And the “H word” lingering in my mind.

And I remember secretly hoping that that word

Would never be placed as a label above my head,

Yet more than that,

I prayed that I would stand up for what I believed in

No matter what the consequence.

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Front Page News Review #7

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FairMormon’s Front Page News Review provides context and analysis of the past week’s media coverage of Mormons and the LDS church. Hosted by Nick Galieti and manager of the FairMormon Front Page news service, Cassandra Hedelius.

What we present is not to be understood as being the official position of FairMormon or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We speak for ourselves, and sometimes not even then.

This week’s news:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2015/04/13/399336765/7-things-you-should-know-about-marco-rubio

http://www.kansascity.com/living/religion/article18104675.html

http://www.sltrib.com/lifestyle/faith/2378770-155/group-scolds-mormon-apostle-for-disparaging

http://www.hngn.com/articles/83272/20150408/american-idol-alum-david-archuleta-apologizes-anti-gay-tweet.htm

Get your Early-Bird Conference Tickets now!

On August 6 & 7 we will be having our FairMormon conference at the Utah Valley Convention center.

Lodging is provided at the Provo Marriott across the street.

Right now you can get early-bird pricing for your tickets so register now before the price goes up.

To register click here http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/conf15a and scroll down the the conference registration.

Speakers this year include Margaret Barker, Ed Pinegar, Stephen Webb , Brant Gardner, Ron Dennis, Brittany Chapman, David Larsen, Jim Gordon, Laura Hales, Cassandra Hedelius, Paul Reeve, and, Dan Peterson.

We have both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars this year speaking about Mormon topics, so this conference is one that you don’t want to miss.

Sign up at this link: http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/conf15a

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Front Page News Review Podcast #3

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Welcome to FairMormon’s Front Page News Review for the fourth week of January, 2015.  Here we provide context and analysis of the past week’s media coverage of Mormons and the LDS church. Front Page News Review is  hosted Nick Galieti and manager of the FairMormon Front Page news service, Cassandra Hedelius.

We hope this will be an edifying and entertaining experience. What we present is not to be understood as being the official position of FairMormon or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We speak for ourselves, and sometimes not even then.

This week’s top news stories:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/us/mormons-seek-golden-mean-between-gay-rights-and-religious-beliefs.html?_r=1

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/28/mormon-s-lgbtq-support-is-bigotry-in-disguise.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2015/01/28/how-much-will-the-mormon-churchs-endorsement-of-lgbt-protections-sway-mormon-lawmakers/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2015/01/28/mitt-romney-still-has-a-mormon-problem/

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Re-examining gay Mormon youth and suicide: What does the data say?

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salt-lake-city-downtown-21[This post originally appeared at Virtuous Society and is reposted here with the author’s permission.]

Written by Tom Stringham

Do young Latter-day Saints, and especially gay youth, commit suicide at a higher rate than other youth in the US? The short answer: with the data we have, we don’t know. So what do we know for sure? The Mormon teen suicide problem Some readers may have read a recent interview in the Huffington Post with Wendy Williams Montgomery, a Californian mom and LGBT advocate. In the interview, Montgomery refers to a widely recognized problem within Mormon culture: the high rate of suicides among gay youth. “Mormons,” Montgomery asserts, “have the highest rate of gay teen suicides in the country.”

Over the last few years, the idea that Mormons have a problem with teen suicide, especially among gay youth, has become common wisdom. In 2012, a Reuters article highlighted the issue of gay teen suicide in Utah. The Huffington Post has featured the issue multiple times, as in a 2012 post. High-profile Mormon critic John Dehlin frequently discusses gay teen suicide among Mormons, and recently referred to the phenomenon as epidemic. His characterization seems to fit the general impression: Mormons have a special problem with suicide among gay teens.

Missing data

There is no question that gay teen suicide is a reality among Mormon youth. In many cases, we have heard their stories, either through media or personal experience. Fortunately, we are more aware of this reality than we were in the past. Unfortunately, however, these stories seem to be accompanied, more and more frequently, by statistical claims that are not supported by data. Ms. Montgomery’s assertion that Mormons have the highest gay teen suicide rate in the country is unsourced in the original interview, and other blogs and outlets making similar claims are also missing sources. I surveyed all the government and health data I could find on youth suicide in the United States, and was unable to find any agency that collects public data by religion or sexual orientation (data so specific would be very difficult to collect). In fact, the American Association of Suicidology’s LGBT Resource Sheet notes, “to date, there is no empirical data regarding the number of completed suicides within the LGBT community.” The claim appears to be fabricated.

Other claims to the effect that Mormons, or Utahns, have a unique or unusually acute problem with gay teen suicide, or even teen suicide, cannot be supported by any data I can find.

The data we do have

Much of the interest in Mormons and teen suicide seems to originate from a 2006 article in the Deseret News, a newspaper owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The article pointed out a few statistics about suicide that would have been surprising to most readers at the time. First, that Utah had the highest rate of suicide among males age 15-24. Second, that Utah had the 11th highest overall suicide rate in the United States. And third, that the youth suicide rate in Utah had tripled over the preceding half-century (in fact, this is true across the United States). The newspaper didn’t cite its sources, but all of the categories of statistics they refer to are available through the CDC and other federal sources and appear to be genuine.

What else do we know? The data in that report is now nine years old, so it’s worth taking stock of the current reality. I’ve collected a set of more recent figures below, from public data and representative surveys:

A collection of more recent statistics is below:

  • Utah’s suicide rate among people age 15-24 is 9th highest in the United States, among 47 states with reliable data (CDC, 2013)
  • Utah’s suicide rate among males age 15-24 is 7th highest, among 46 states with reliable data (CDC, 2013)
  • Utah’s suicide rate among females age 15-24 cannot be reported as the number of cases is smaller than 20 (CDC, 2013)
  • Utah’s overall suicide rate is 5th highest in the United States (CDC, 2013)
  • Utah is 29th out of 40 states with available data for the rate of high school students who have attempted suicide (not completed suicide) (CDC, 2013)
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Utahns age 10-17. (Utah Department of Health, 2012)
  • Across 9 sites surveyed (all in the Midwestern or Eastern US and California), lesbian and gay high school students had a rate of attempted suicide that was approximately 4 times higher than for straight students (CDC, 2011)
  • A representative survey of students in Grades 7-12 across the US using the Add-Health database found that Mormon gay teens reported significantly less depression and fewer suicidal thoughts than their nonreligious peers. (Add-Health, 2010)
  • The same survey found that religious gay teens had a lower attempted suicide rate than nonreligious gay teens (the number of cases did not allow for statistical significance, however).

To the best of my knowledge, these statistics are the closest we can come to answering the statistical questions surrounding gay teen suicide among Mormons, or within Utah. Specifically targeted data on completed or attempted suicide among gay Mormon teens simply isn’t available. The data speak well enough for themselves, but it’s worth pointing out that none of the relevant data points appear to justify an unusual suspicion about Utah (or, by extension, Mormons). This is especially true since the surprisingly strong link between high altitude and suicide rates has become well established. Among high-altitude states in the Rocky Mountain West, Utah appears to have overall rates within the average range, and youth rates slightly lower than the average. We have no empirical data specific to Utah for gay and lesbian youth, but we can assume that like other states, the rate of attempted suicide, and presumably completed suicide, is considerably higher than for straight youth.

It’s also worth noting that Utah’s overall suicide rate has increased relative to other states since 2006, while its youth suicide rate has fallen in comparison to other states. Furthermore, the Add- Health dataset mentioned above suggests that Mormon gay youth are relatively less at risk for suicide than nonreligious gay youth.

Conclusions

While only systematic recordkeeping and representative surveys can answer the questions we’re most interested in, we shouldn’t ignore anecdotal evidence about suicide. The sense among many concerned observers in Utah and elsewhere that the situation is bad and getting worse probably reflects an important reality. Youth suicide in the US has quickly gotten worse over the decades, and a disproportionate number of these suicides across the US, including within Utah, are among gay youth. Combined, these two trends might be giving an alarming impression to those concerned about the well-being of gay teens; an impression made locally that could be transformed into misplaced claims, such as Ms. Montgomery’s. So her hypothesis–that Mormons in particular have an unusually severe problem with gay teen suicide—could possibly be an observer’s local interpretation of nationwide trends, but it cannot be supported or rejected by the data itself, as far as I can tell.

The hypothesis cannot be confirmed or rejected by theory, either. Many advocates who highlight the issue of suicide among Mormons do so within the framework of a particular narrative, at the center of which is the idea that Latter-day Saint sexual values are harmful. Since there is no data to support the assertion of abnormal suicide rates, the theory seems to be doing all the work. But there are other theories that could be put forth—Latter-day Saints could just as well hypothesize that robust Mormon families and supportive faith communities lead to lower rates of suicide among gay youth. But this would also be unjustified; it would be best for everyone to refrain from attempting to explain phenomena for which there isn’t evidence in the first place.

Those who believe in Latter-day Saint sexual values and those who do not should be able to agree: one youth suicide is too many, including among gay youth. Even if the Mormon problem is not unique, it is still a problem. We don’t need statistics, and certainly not unsourced statistics, to tell us this.

[For further reading on this topic, please visit this link.]

The Gospel is for Everyone

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I always look forward to the time that General Conference rolls around. Listening to the inspiring words of our leaders lift my spirit and renew my commitment to follow my Savior. My favorite talks are the ones that call me to action. They help me see doctrine in a new light and inspire me to change my life to more fully honor my covenants.

Such was the case with President Monson’s address in the priesthood session. He challenged us to look beyond the stereotype and “see others as they may become”. He shared a story of a successful missionary in a difficult area, who imagined everyone that he met dressed in white, entering the waters of baptism. He talked about a prison warden, who spent his time rehabilitating prisoners, even though many critics argued that such prisoners could not change. He spoke of his own experiences challenging less-active members to step up to leadership roles.

These stories caused me to stop and consider the way I viewed my brothers and sisters. There have been things that I have done in the past that I haven’t been proud of, so why do I limit others by their mistakes? It takes great humility and charity to view everyone according to their potential, and not by their mistakes. I think this is the way God sees us, which makes it so that “his hand is stretched out still.” (Isaiah 5:25)

There are those who say such a hope is futile, that some people were born to do certain things and have no choice in the matter. They may argue that the gospel plan is too hard and too demanding for some people to follow. We know better. We know that Christ came with healing in his wings, powerful enough to save all that would come unto him. Even though we know this, our hope and expectations for our fellow man is all too often dimmed by the negativity of those around us.

We need to revaluate our stereotypes and prejudices and root out any negativity that may have crept in. What is the first image that pops in your mind when you think of a gay person or a same-sex couple? Do you think of half-naked marchers in a gay pride parade? What about suicidal teenagers? How many of us have the image of a son or daughter of God, dressed in white, ready to enter the waters of baptism? How many of us have an image of gay people who are already members as potential bishops and Relief Society presidents?

Granted, a prospective baptism is not the first thing that pops into my mind when I see a same-sex couple either, but perhaps that is why I was so inspired President Monson’s talk. It is an area that I need to improve. Our current culture makes it difficult to have such hope and charity for our brothers and sisters with same-sex attraction. Critics argue that our church is anti-gay, that our doctrine is damaging towards those with SSA, and that joy and happiness for people with SSA is mutually exclusive with participation in the restored Church. Recently, one group even took out a billboard claiming that gay people cannot be members of our church. This spirit of negativity is enough to make many members of the church wonder if the church is broad enough to welcome all to come unto Christ. Many may doubt if the doctrines and teachings of the church offer any benefit to our gay brothers and sisters. Some may even question Christ’s ability to bring all people to him.

So how do we gain this hope that Christ can save all mankind? How do we revive our testimonies that the gospel has the power to bring peace and joy through faith and repentance to even those who are currently in same-sex relationships? One of the most effective ways is through personal stories. The claims that gay people cannot join the Church and the doctrine cannot bring happiness quickly unravel as we listen to the stories of men and women with SSA who have found peace and joy through living the gospel of Jesus Christ, including those who were in same-sex relationships.

The Church has recently released a web site dealing specifically with homosexuality, called Mormons and Gays. It includes resources, the loving words of our leaders, and testimonies of valiant son and daughters of God with same-sex attraction, who have found the peace that only the gospel brings.  An unofficial web site, Voices of Hope, will soon be launched, bringing even more voices to the chorus of people with SSA who testify of the truthfulness of the gospel.

Through browsing these web sites, you will hear the miracles that happen on a daily basis in the lives of our brothers and sisters who deal with homosexuality. You will read stories of how the gospel has broken the chains of addiction and self-destructive behavior, and given people the strength to leave same-sex relationships. You will hear stories of how the gospel has saved marriages or helped people find fulfillment in celibacy. You will see how gospel has raised people out of depression and increased their confidence and self-esteem. You will also learn that there is still work to be done, that many people with same-sex attraction are hungry for the gospel truths and the fellowship of the saints.

Our gospel is a universal gospel. Christ calls all to come unto him, black and white, bond and free, and even gay and straight. He is full of grace, mercy and truth, and has the power to save us, not in our sins, but from our sins. The question of whether gay people can find joy in the church is not a theoretical question, to be debated through media and parlor conversations. It is a reality that manifests itself in the lives of members of the Church. May we remember the infinite grace of Christ and always have hope and charity for all of our brothers and sisters.

* http://www.mormonsandgays.org