A Latter-Day Saint Christian Approach to Homosexuality
Homosexuality has been a fact of the human experience since time immemorial. Whatever its origin, it is not a new phenomenon, and neither is the currently growing acceptance in society unique throughout the long history of human civilization. However, homosexuality has rarely if indeed ever enjoyed acceptance within the traditions or doctrine of the abrahamic faiths. Today Homosexuality has taken center stage among the cultural clashes of our time. To those who defend Homosexuality, it is an issue of basic human rights; while to those who oppose it, the issue embodies the moral decay which they see besetting our society.
As a result of this steep divide, harsh rhetoric has tinged the discourses of each opposing side. Misinformation, generalizations, equivocations, and outright anger, characterize the chaotic din which this debate has sparked. Throughout all of this noise, I have been saddened to see many Christians (including Latter-Day Saint Christians) aligning themselves to various extremes of the argument which (as it seems to me) miss the ‘middle way’ (to borrow a term from Buddhism) which Christianity actually teaches us about this subject. While I fully accept that there are numerous interpretations of Christian doctrine among the various sects — and indeed various approaches to our own doctrine among Latter-Day Saint Christians — I hope here to share what I see as the Orthodox Latter-Day Saint Christian ‘middle-way’. An approach primarly driven by love and looking to the example of the Savior.
Let me start out by saying that God does not hate homosexuals. He does not now, nor has he ever hated any of his children, and that is a designation which most certainly includes homosexuals as it does any member of the human family who has ever walked upon this earth. By the same token we, as God’s children, have no right what so ever to hate our brothers and sisters who are homosexuals. The Lord commanded us to love everyone, and he did not qualify that command in any way. In no way should we ostracize our homosexual brothers and sisters nor exclude them from our communities, nor withhold from them our friendship and kindness. We should never find ourselves considering whether or not we should extend the hand of charity and love to any of our fellow human beings, be they homosexual or not. They should not be excluded, nor discriminated against, at work, school, or social activities. Our charge is to love all, and that means to go out of our way to make everyone feel loved and included. Those who feel otherwise — and believe that either God hates, or that we should hate, homosexuals — have missed the core message of Christianity.
However, we cannot choose to ignore the clear commands which the Lord has given us concerning sexuality. The Lord has clearly forbidden sexual relations outside of marriage, in any form, and he has defined marriage as between a man and a woman (see “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”). Homosexuality has been repeatedly identified as a sin in the scriptures (Romans 1:26–27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10, Jude 1:7) as well in the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This includes numerous addresses from the General Authorities of the Church, as well as manuals and even the Church’s official doctrinal reference: “True to the Faith” (see “True to the Faith”, 2004, Chastity: Sexual Sins: paragraph 3).
That being said, there is no where in Latter-Day Saint Christian doctrine which states that same sex attraction is a sin. To be tempted, is not sinful. “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.” (Elder Oaks, IOW-SGA*). Some are born with a propensity to certain temptations, some develop temptations through experiences and choices in their lives. “The Church does not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction. Those are scientific questions — whether nature or nurture — those are things the Church doesn’t have a position on.” (Elder Oaks, IOW-SGA, emphasis added).
In short: like any temptation, while entertaining or acting upon it is a sin, feeling the inclination or temptation itself is not.
As a result of this doctrinal view the Church’s position on the socio-political aspect of this issue can be summarized with the following points:
- Marriage should be legally defined as being only between a Man and a Woman (including by an amendment to the United States Constitution)
- The Church opposes those Civil Unions which would be equivalent to marriage save in name only (see Elder Wickman’s comments in IOW-SGA)
- The Church supports individual legal protections for homosexuals such as those in regards to hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, as well as probate rights (see statement)
- Homosexuals should not be excluded from our community functions (such as Boy Scouts) or treated as inferior people in any way; because they are not.
- Those who feel homosexual inclinations but do not act upon them (or have repented appropriately) are not excluded in anyway from full membership and participation in Church callings or religious functions. (see Elder Oaks comments in IOW-SGA)
However, because of these positions, many consider the Church and its members to be bigots. They claim that these stances are the result of a deep-seeded hatred or self-superiority on the part of members of the Church towards those in the homosexual community. This view is unfortunate, because it could not be farther from the truth. Although many may still choose to disagree, I assert that it is possible to love and accept a person without accepting their choices. Does a parent or sibling not love their child or sibling if they do not support every choice or action they perform? Disagreement is not bigotry.
A full exploration of the issues surrounding the supposed bigotry of those who oppose same-sex marriage, which adequately addresses the various rebuttals and equivocations, would be too lengthy for the scope of this post. For now I will only say that to call someone who disagrees with actions a ‘bigot’, or to call disagreement with a social policy ‘hatred’, is at the very least an indirect form of ad hominem.
Increasingly, many members of the Church have unfortunately failed to follow what the Church has taught about this issue. I have regretfully heard many members of the Church casting ill-will and derision upon the persons of those who deal with same-sex attraction or who live a homosexual lifestyle. This sort of behavior and thinking is beyond despicable and completely inappropriate for one who claims to follow the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, or who bear the Priesthood of God. They have failed to follow what the Lord taught us about the importance of ‘hating the sin, and loving the sinner’. I fear that many believe that somehow being guilty of this sin makes it OK for others to them in an unchristian manner. That then is true ‘homophobia’ and bigotry, completely unbecoming a member of the Lord’s church. Interestingly enough many who behave this way would not likely treat one who was guilty of infidelity so terribly. And while comparing sins is a dangerous business, I would venture to guess that marital infidelity is worse than homosexuality, because it involves treacherously breaking the most sacred covenant which man or woman can make. And how then did our Lord treat the woman caught in adultery? “Go, and sin no more.”
Additionally many in the church have chosen to oppose the staunch position of the Church leaders on this issue and instead favored their personal political preferences over their faith in the Church. While many are well intentioned, I would encourage them to tread carefully so as to not find themselves fighting against the Church and it’s official positions, as such is the definition of apostasy and may prevent one from passing a Temple-Recommend interview or result in them facing a Church Disciplinary Council. Yet by the same token, I must reiterate that any who hide behind Church doctrine to justify their mistreatment of homosexuals, is also significantly in the wrong. When it comes to this issue, the Latter-Day Saint way is the ‘Middle Way’.
In conclusion, let me just share the words of President Gordon B. Hinckley who told members who are attracted to the same sex: “Our hearts reach out to [you]. We remember you before the Lord, we sympathize with you, we regard you as our brothers and sisters.” (God Loveth His Children) And finally with the words of President Boyd K. Packer who affirmed, “We do not reject you. … We cannot reject you. … We will not reject you, because we love you.” (Ye Are The Temple of God)
*IOW-SGA = Interview With Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman: “Same-Gender Attraction”