Recently, society has begun telling people like me that who we are attracted to is some important and integral part of our identity that shouldn’t be suppressed. But just a few decades ago this same society–including the non-religious and scientific communities–considered being gay, lesbian, or bisexual wrong and defined it as a mental illness (it was in the official DSM for the APA).
Does anyone else see a problem here? To me, this says “Science and society don’t know what they’re talking about. They are highly influence-able and changeable. A couple decades from now, they could have a totally different opinion.”
God, on the other hand, has been saying the same thing about homosexual behaviors throughout the centuries (for example, Romans 1:27), and continues to do so today (https://www.lds.org/topics/same-gender-attraction?lang=eng).
God is someone I can trust.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, one of the twelve apostles of my church, along with another leader, Elder Lance B. Wickman, gave an interview that explained a lot of what I feel about this topic. As I read it, my own views and feelings were confirmed. I’ll post a link to the interview at the end. I wanted to share some of what they said.
I disagree with society’s latest view on homosexuality. I don’t believe my sexual attraction is a definitive part of my identity. Elder Oaks explained the concept of our identity and what defines us:
“I think it is an accurate statement to say that some people consider feelings of same-gender attraction to be the defining fact of their existence. There are also people who consider the defining fact of their existence that they are from Texas or that they were in the United States Marines. Or they are red-headed, or they are the best basketball player that ever played for such-and-such a high school. People can adopt a characteristic as the defining example of their existence and often those characteristics are physical.
We have the agency to choose which characteristics will define us; those choices are not thrust upon us.
The ultimate defining fact for all of us is that we are children of Heavenly Parents, born on this earth for a purpose, and born with a divine destiny. Whenever any of those other notions, whatever they may be, gets in the way of that ultimate defining fact, then it is destructive and it leads us down the wrong path.”
Elder Wickman also taught about how our sexual attraction is not our identity by pointing out that it is limited to this life, whereas our identity is eternal:
“…same-gender attraction did not exist in the pre-earth life and neither will it exist in the next life. It is a circumstance that for whatever reason or reasons seems to apply right now in mortality, in this nano-second of our eternal existence.”
Elder Wickman also brought up the role that society has been playing in the increased struggle individuals are experiencing with their same-gender attraction. Our current society is obsessed with sexual satisfaction and less focused on other aspects of a person’s life, which leads to more pain and confusion for those of us who struggle with same-sex attraction:
“We live in a society which is so saturated with sexuality that it perhaps is more troublesome now, because of that fact, for a person to look beyond their gender orientation to other aspects of who they are. I think I would say to your son or anyone that was so afflicted to strive to expand your horizons beyond simply gender orientation. Find fulfillment in the many other facets of your character and your personality and your nature that extend beyond that.”
Earlier in the interview, Elder Oaks said this, when given the hypothetical scenario of a son coming to him and revealing his same-gender attraction.
“I think it’s important for you to understand that homosexuality, which you’ve spoken of, is not a noun that describes a condition. It’s an adjective that describes feelings or behavior. I encourage you, as you struggle with these challenges, not to think of yourself as a ‘something’ or ‘another,’ except that you’re a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and you’re my son, and that you’re struggling with challenges.
Everyone has some challenges they have to struggle with. You’ve described a particular kind of challenge that is very vexing. It is common in our society and it has also become politicized. But it’s only one of a host of challenges men and women have to struggle with, and I just encourage you to seek the help of the Savior to resist temptation and to refrain from behavior that would cause you to have to repent…”
I really appreciate his explanation that being attracted to the same gender is just a temptation, since desiring something that is against God’s plan of happiness = temptation. He also made sure that everyone was aware that yielding to that temptation = sin. Not the desire. Not feeling that temptation. And that God will help us resist these temptations, just like He will all others. He sent our spirits here to learn to gain self-mastery over these bodies and their inclinations. Whether it is a desire or inclination toward anger, selfishness, alcohol, or any other aspect that is against His commandments (i.e. His rules for peace and happiness), God can give us guidance and grace to learn, step-by-step, to overcome them:
“The distinction between feelings or inclinations on the one hand, and behavior on the other hand, is very clear. It’s no sin to have inclinations that if yielded to would produce behavior that would be a transgression. The sin is in yielding to temptation. Temptation is not unique. Even the Savior was tempted.
The New Testament affirms that God has given us commandments that are difficult to keep. It is in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
Later, Elder Oaks explained how same-sex attraction is similar to other temptations and challenges in life:
“homosexual feelings are controllable. Perhaps there is an inclination or susceptibility to such feelings that is a reality for some and not a reality for others. But out of such susceptibilities come feelings, and feelings are controllable. If we cater to the feelings, they increase the power of the temptation. If we yield to the temptation, we have committed sinful behavior. That pattern is the same for a person that covets someone else’s property and has a strong temptation to steal. It’s the same for a person that develops a taste for alcohol. It’s the same for a person that is born with a ‘short fuse,’ as we would say of a susceptibility to anger. If they let that susceptibility remain uncontrolled, it becomes a feeling of anger, and a feeling of anger can yield to behavior that is sinful and illegal.
We’re not talking about a unique challenge here. We’re talking about a common condition of mortality. We don’t understand exactly the ‘why,’ or the extent to which there are inclinations or susceptibilities and so on. But what we do know is that feelings can be controlled and behavior can be controlled.”
Elder Wickman explained that having these desires doesn’t mean that they our important and must be satisfied, that is just one of society’s misconceptions and deceptions:
“One of the great sophistries of our age, I think, is that merely because one has an inclination to do something, that therefore acting in accordance with that inclination is inevitable. That’s contrary to our very nature…”
And Elder Oaks expounded on that:
“we do not accept the fact that conditions that prevent people from attaining their eternal destiny were born into them without any ability to control. That is contrary to the Plan of Salvation, and it is contrary to the justice and mercy of God. It’s contrary to the whole teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which expresses the truth that by or through the power and mercy of Jesus Christ we will have the strength to do all things. That includes resisting temptation. That includes dealing with things that we’re born with, including disfigurements, or mental or physical incapacities. None of these stand in the way of our attaining our eternal destiny. The same may be said of a susceptibility or inclination to one behavior or another which if yielded to would prevent us from achieving our eternal destiny.”
Later in the interview, Elder Oaks spoke out against marrying the opposite gender in an attempt to overcome your same-sex attraction, but explained:
“….persons who have cleansed themselves of any transgression and who have shown their ability to deal with these feelings or inclinations and put them in the background, and feel a great attraction for a daughter of God and therefore desire to enter marriage and have children and enjoy the blessings of eternity — that’s a situation when marriage would be appropriate.”
When asked if there is no other way but to be celibate for the rest of your life if you don’t feel you can ever enter into a heterosexual marriage, Elder Oaks stated very clearly:
“That is exactly the same thing we say to the many members who don’t have the opportunity to marry. We expect celibacy of any person that is not married.
He went on to explain that the inability to marry isn’t an affliction unique to those who are gay or lesbian and don’t feel they can ever be attracted to the opposite sex:
“There are people with physical disabilities that prevent them from having any hope — in some cases any actual hope and in other cases any practical hope — of marriage. The circumstance of being currently unable to marry, while tragic, is not unique. It is sometimes said that God could not discriminate against individuals in this circumstance. But life is full of physical infirmities that some might see as discriminations — total paralysis or serious mental impairment being two that are relevant to marriage.”
Elder Wickman also had some thoughts about this:
“There’s really no question that there is an anguish associated with the inability to marry in this life. We feel for someone that has that anguish. I feel for somebody that has that anguish. But it’s not limited to someone who has same-gender attraction.
We live in a very self-absorbed age. I guess it’s naturally human to think about my own problems as somehow greater than someone else’s. I think when any one of us begins to think that way, it might be well to look beyond ourselves. Who am I to say that I am more handicapped, or suffering more, than someone else?”
He then told a personal story about his 27-year-old daughter, Courtney, who has cerebral palsy and will also not be able to enjoy the blessings of marriage in this life:
“Courtney didn’t ask for the circumstances into which she was born in this life, any more than somebody with same-gender attraction did. So there are lots of kinds of anguish people can have, even associated with just this matter of marriage. What we look forward to, and the great promise of the gospel, is that whatever our inclinations are here, whatever our shortcomings are here, whatever the hindrances to our enjoying a fullness of joy here, we have the Lord’s assurance for every one of us that those in due course will be removed. We just need to remain faithful.”
I feel like this is a good answer to those who don’t understand why God would deny anyone love. What God denies to everyone—including but not only those with same-gender attraction—is unchastity. And He does this for our own eternal welfare, progress, and happiness.
In addition, for some, including some of those with same-gender attraction and with other infirmities like those mentioned above, marriage will not be available in this life. Its hard, but is just one of a myriad of trials that people must go through in this temporal life.
But He doesn’t deny love. The Bible even has an instance of a same-gender FRIENDSHIP that was especially strong and loving in 1 Samuel 18 and 20. In this story, Jonathan loved David “as his own soul” and their souls were “knit together”. Love doesn’t have to include sex. We can have deep, emotionally satisfying but nonsexual relationships with members of the same gender. We can love our family and friends and neighbors.
An eternal perspective is what best helps me with this challenge. Here is what Elder Wickman said in regard to this:
“The good news for somebody who is struggling with same-gender attraction is this: 1) It is that ‘I’m not stuck with it forever.’ It’s just now. Admittedly, for each one of us, it’s hard to look beyond the ‘now’ sometimes. But nonetheless, if you see mortality as now, it’s only during this season. 2) If I can keep myself worthy here, if I can be true to gospel commandments, if I can keep covenants that I have made, the blessings of exaltation and eternal life that Heavenly Father holds out to all of His children apply to me. Every blessing — including eternal marriage — is and will be mine in due course.”
And here is Elder Oaks’s final word:
“We urge persons with same-gender attractions to control those and to refrain from acting upon them, which is a sin, just as we urge persons with heterosexual attractions to refrain from acting upon them until they have the opportunity for a marriage recognized by God as well as by the law of the land. That is the way to happiness and eternal life. God has given us no commandment that He will not give us the strength and power to observe. That is the Plan of Salvation for His children…”
As I wrote before, I trust God. I trust that He has a plan for my life, and that that plan includes trials I must pass through and difficult commandments I must learn to keep “to see if (I) will do all things whatsoever the Lord (my) God shall command (me).” (Abraham 3:25).
I have faith that I can have happiness in this life as I focus on all the good things I CAN do to serve others and to progress, and that I will have eternal happiness as I trust in and obey God’s commandments.
Here is the interview with Elder Oaks and Elder Wickman: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/interview-oaks-wickman-same-gender-attraction
As someone who is LGBT, I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about same-sex attraction and wanted to share some thoughts and ideas that help me. These thoughts may not help everyone and everyone may not agree with them or believe the same as me. But I share them for the purpose of helping anyone who, like me, may find them comforting, strengthening, or enlightening.