Sunday, January 9, 2011

Homosexuality: The Ebbs and Flows of Official Mormon Thought

I was recently reading through Brad Carmack’s e-book, Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student’s Perspective, and I was struck by a lengthy series of statements by general authorities and other church leaders concerning homosexuality that he had included, given over the past 40 years or so.  I thought it might be instructive to list just some of these statements for the purpose of reflecting on the ebb and flow of thought from Church leaders on this subject.  (Thanks for compiling these, Brad!)

Before doing so, however, I would like to point out that I typically haven’t wanted to wade into anything approaching a scholarly discussion of the evolution of thought within the ranks of official Mormondom toward homosexuality because I don’t consider myself qualified to do so.  However, as an ordinary (gay) member of the Church, I believe it to be my responsibility to be familiar with this evolution, to assist others in being aware of it, and to ponder the significance of such evolution within a church that is founded upon the principle of continuous revelation.

“We know such a disease [i.e., homosexuality] is curable… and promise him if he will stay away from the haunts and the temptations, and the former associates, he may heal himself …” – Elder Spencer W. Kimball, 1964

“Homosexuals can be assured that in spite of all they may have heard from other sources, they can overcome and return to normal, happy living.” – First Presidency Letter, 1970

“There is a falsehood that some are born with an attraction to their own kind, with nothing they can do about it. They are just "that way" and can only yield to those desires. That is a malicious and destructive lie. While it is a convincing idea to some, it is of the devil.” – Elder Boyd K. Packer, 1976*

            *Note:  This quote is from Boyd K. Packer’s talk “To Young Men Only” given at priesthood session of conference in October 1976.  This talk is not included in the online version of the November 1976 Ensign, however, and a search of for this talk yields only three hits, two of which refer to the same article, which in turn cites the talk in a footnote, and the remaining hit is a reference to the talk in a Family Home Evening manual.  It is interesting that a talk that was made into a pamphlet that has influenced the lives of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Mormon young men over the past 35 years is not available (and virtually not referred to) on the Church’s website.

“Since homosexuals have become a nationwide entity, and have come out of hiding to demand their place in the sun, many of them claim that they are what they are because they were born that way and cannot help it. How ridiculous is such a claim.  It was not God who made them that way, any more than He made bank robbers the way they are.” – Elder Mark E. Peterson, 1978

“Please notice that I use [homosexual] as an adjective, not as a noun: I reject it as a noun. I repeat, I accept that word as an adjective to describe a temporary condition. I reject it as a noun naming a permanent one.” – Elder Boyd K. Packer, 1978

“’God made me that way,’ some say [i.e., homosexual] … This is blasphemy.  Is man not made in the image of God, and does he think God to be ‘that way’?” – President Spencer W. Kimball, 1980

“There is some widely accepted theory extant that homosexuality is inherited. How can this be … The false belief of inborn sexual orientation denies to repentant souls the opportunity to change and will ultimately lead to discouragement, disappointment, and despair.” – President James E. Faust, 1995

“The words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns [or pronouns] to identify particular conditions or specific persons. . . . It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.”  - Elder Dallin Oakes, 1995

“It is important to understand that homosexuality is not innate and unchangeable …. What is clear is that homosexuality results from an interaction of social, biological, and psychological factors. These factors may include temperament, personality traits, sexual abuse, familial factors, and treatment by one’s peers.”  - A. Dean Byrd, Assistant Commissioner of LDS Family Services, 1999

“[Is homosexuality] a problem they [i.e., homosexuals] caused, or they were born with?  Answer: I don't know. I'm not an expert on these things. I don't pretend to be an expert on these things.”  - President Gordon B. Hinckley, 2004

“Having same-gender attraction is NOT in your DNA… [There is a] misconception that same-gender attraction is an inborn and unalterable orientation. This untrue assumption tries to persuade you to label yourselves and build your entire identity around a fixed sexual orientation or condition.” – Elder Bruce Hafen, 2009

“If someone seeking your help says to you, ‘I am a homosexual,’ or, ‘I am lesbian,’ or, ‘I am gay,’ correct this miscasting… it is simply not true. To speak this way seeds a doubt and deceit about who we really are.” – Bishop Keith McMullin (of the Presiding Bishopric), 2010

 “Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, He is our Father.”  - President Boyd K. Packer, 2010

“The Church recognizes that those of its members who are attracted to others of the same sex experience deep emotional, social and physical feelings. The Church distinguishes between feelings or inclinations on the one hand and behavior on the other. It’s not a sin to have feelings, only in yielding to temptation … Those in the Church who are attracted to someone of the same sex but stay faithful to the Church’s teachings can be happy during this life and perform meaningful service in the Church. They can enjoy full fellowship with other Church members, including attending and serving in temples, and ultimately receive all the blessings afforded to those who live the commandments of God.” – Michael Otterson, Church Public Communications Director, 2010

There is little doubt that the doctrinal position of the Church on merely being a homosexual has changed since Elder (later President) Spencer W. Kimball called it a curable disease in 1964.  There is also little doubt that deep fissures appear to exist today among the general authorities as to many issues pertaining to homosexuality.  One is left to consider and ponder ...

Meanwhile, in looking up one of the quotes that Brad used, I read an article published in the September 1999 issue of the Ensign (official Church magazine) that was written by A. Dean Byrd, the Assistant Commissioner of LDS Family Services (the Church-owned and operated social services agency).  Because of his position, one can safely assume that what he wrote represented, a mere decade ago, official Church policy and mainstream Church (GA) thinking on the issue of homosexuality.  It is for these reasons that I found the following quotes, listed in the article under the heading, “Helpful Ideas'” not only interesting, but also revealing and troubling. Note what is implied (and the assumptions on which he operates) as well as what is explicitly stated. Although tempted, I have elected not to highlight any particular passages or offer any commentary thereon, but let them speak for themselves.  However, you, dear reader, are encouraged to offer your comments below.  I, for one, would be very interested to read what you all may have to say. 

Express your own feelings and testimony of change. Realize that your loved one may experience extreme pain because of the extensive changes that are required. These include changing one’s thoughts and often one’s friendships, leisure settings, work situation, or even clothing styles. President Ezra Taft Benson expressed his testimony of the Lord’s method of change: “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature …””

While maintaining a loving concern for the person, reiterate the Lord’s position that homosexual relations are sinful, and don’t lose sight of this gospel truth. The story of one young man highlights this point. At 27 years of age, Kent had never acted on his homosexual urgings, which had been present for several years. He decided to inform his parents about his feelings. They were visibly upset but voiced their support for him. Unfortunately, he viewed their support as approval to pursue homosexual relations. He contracted the AIDS virus. In retrospect, he wondered if it would have made a difference if his parents had taken a stronger stand. He stated, “I interpreted their love for me as their approval of homosexual relations.””

“Kindly encourage the individual to seek counsel from the bishop. Real healing comes from repentance and forgiveness; it comes from the Lord. A loving bishop can provide a needed bridge between the individual and the Lord.  Roger was a 40-year-old who had struggled with homosexual desires most of his life. A therapist at LDS Family Services had helped him sort out his feelings, many of which resulted from a childhood of horrific abuse. Roger achieved a sense of peace that he had never thought possible, but he still wondered if his Father in Heaven had really forgiven him. The bishop met with Roger regularly and gave him comforting blessings. Subsequent to one of the meetings with the bishop, Roger left the room, only to be recalled by the bishop. The bishop put his arm around Roger and said, “The Lord has told me to put my arm around you and to tell you that He loves you.” Roger remembered feeling the Savior’s love in a profound way. Later, Roger said, “I guess I knew that the Lord loved me, but today I felt His love.” Roger’s sense of peace was complete. Indeed, the bishop had helped bridge the gap between Roger and the Lord.”

If your loved one is not already married, do not encourage him or her to marry as a “cure” for homosexuality. President Hinckley wisely counseled, “Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices, which first should clearly be overcome with a firm and fixed determination never to slip to such practices again.”  When homosexual difficulties have been fully resolved, heterosexual feelings can emerge, which may lead to happy, eternal marriage relationships.”

The penultimate paragraphs of Brother Byrd’s article are too lengthy to insert here, but I would recommend reading them.  Here’s the link.


  1. Wow, that's quite a gem of an Ensign article you dug up. I found the teaching point in the story about 27 year old "Kent" particularly disturbing.

  2. I said I wasn't going to comment, but frankly, those "Helpful Ideas" make me want to vomit. For some reason, Isaiah 5:20 comes forcefully into my mind (but not in a way Brother Byrd would contemplate): "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."

  3. all of it is disturbing. it is the continued "hidden" teaching of the lay (lds) clergy of the church.

    the general members accept only that which they want and see only what they desire. as Bruce Bastion stated (on Mormon Stories Podcast) their conclusions are drawn upon their own feelings of "ick" when thinking of male/male, female/female relationships. so, my question is if the "ick factor" is a part of receiving Spiritual Direction for the Lord's Church, why don't they teach that at Sunday School.

    additionally, if the emotional 'ick factor' is a way to determine Truth, then as far as I am concerned heterosexual relations are at the hight of grossness.
    i guess i should counsel others in that regard. because my Truth must be superior to theirs.

  4. The fact is I AM GAY. I am NOT an adjective, I AM A NOUN, just like everyone else who is part of the human family. Contrary to assumptions made by those who have not walked in my shoes, I believe Heavenly Father created me this way and loves me as much as his other children.

    I couldn't help but smile as I read Dean Byrd's unfortunate advice to parents. Based on my experience, his recommendations are not only false, but generally mean spirited.

    Despite decades of fasting and prayer, I found no change in my heart, but only "unnatural" desire. Contrary to Byrd's view, I find no strength in continual reminders of the church's position on homosexual activity, but only hopelessness because of my "deviant" nature. To this point, I have found no peace in counseling with my bishop, but only despair arising from his insensitivity and closed-mindedness.

    I must say that I do agree whole-heartedly with his comments about marriage. Based on my experience and that of every (yes, every) married gay with whom I've spoken, marriage between a gay man and a woman is not ordained of God and will inevitably lead to sorrow. (If you are a gay man happily married for more than 20 years, please set me "straight". I would love to hear from you.)

  5. In the next issue of Dialogue (early March, I think), there will be a scholarly essay of mine that lays out the evolution clearly. Stay tuned for it; I will post a pdf copy on my website. Also to look forward to in that issue will be a critique of Dean Byrd by William Bradshaw.

  6. Thanks, Alan. I will look forward to reading those essays.

  7. This is a good and up-to-date survey of Mormon rhetoric. Two other, similar articles include:

    Scott Nicholson (2008) at his old blog:

    Connell O'Donovan (2006):

  8. All I can say is that all of this makes me sick. Is this evolution? Why does a church who claims to always have been true and will continue to be so have such changing discourses? There is only ONE truth, One church, One celestial kingdom, One prophet, One way to happiness.

    Kimball's quote makes me want to scream! How can someone "catch" homosexuality, as if it were the flu? This entails involuntary involvement that is different from being born gay: this suggests that you are born "pure" in the Roussean sense of "nature" is pure and exposure to society corrupts. Furthermore, his words suggest that one could "catch" it from another if too exposed to someone who "has" gayness, thus isolating that person even more and casting that person as an outsider.

    And what is one supposed to do when they don't fit into the box? ... sit around and wait for someone to come up with a doctrine that will find a place for the "outfits"? The idea that "ok, now we shouldn't coax them into marrying because we know that doesn't work. So let's just tell them that they're doomed to a life of celibacy and unfulfilled happiness, being labelled as "the gay" one?

    Especially as I near MLK day and think of equality, why should anyone not be deemed equal ... Life is for all, liberty, love and freedom of expression (thought and physical) is for all ... Why would someone who IS gay, a noun as Clive said, be treated as inferior or as an object of pity, concern or as a project to "convert" and help back into a fold?

  9. Increasingly I don't see the gay discussion, or any other for that matter, from the perspective of being "Mormon." I think that is my personal evolution.