Friday, May 13, 2011

Mormon Beards – Exploring the Issues: “Turn It Off”

This is the fifth in a series of posts addressing issues relating to gay Mormon men marrying heterosexual women.  As I have previously explained, “beard” (as used here) refers to a slang term for the heterosexual spouse of a gay Mormon who is effectively used to conceal the husband’s sexual orientation.  In this post, I turn to the role that Mormon doctrine (differentiated from “faith,” which will be addressed in a future post) plays in the creation of new Mormon Mixed-Orientation Marriages [MoMoMs].  The post is long – I apologize – primarily due to extensive quotations of pronouncements by various LDS authorities on the subject of homosexuality.
It really goes without saying, but needs to be said anyway: perhaps the single most important factor that contributes to the ongoing creation of MoMoMs is Mormon theology.  Mormon doctrine not only shapes the attitude of young Mormon men and women toward the Church and its pronouncements; it also profoundly affects and shapes the understanding of young Mormon men (and women) of their sexuality and, perhaps most important (for the purposes of this discussion), how they deal with a sexual identity that doesn’t fit the heterosexual ideal that it is at the heart of Mormonism.

This whole subject of Mormon doctrine could be approached in a number of ways and expressed in a myriad of ways.  I’ll say at the outset, therefore, that the approach I utilize in this post is nothing more than that:  an approach.  One approach.  (Read:  I’m not claiming it’s the only “true and living” approach.)  But I think it is a valid approach, and, hopefully, it will be a useful approach.  That said, I have chosen to focus upon the Mormon beliefs listed below (with others to follow in subsequent posts).

1.    The LDS Church is the only true and living Church on the face of the earth.

2.    The Church is led and guided by a living prophet (i.e., the President of the Church) who is the mouthpiece of God.  He is assisted by apostles who are also divinely appointed and inspired (the Prophet and apostles often collectively referred to as the “Brethren”).

These two beliefs serve as the foundation for all other Mormon beliefs.  To faithful Mormons, the LDS Church is Christ’s church, restored to the earth in the “latter day,” the only church on earth that holds the authority to baptize, confirm, and otherwise administer ordinances that are required for salvation.  Read:  There is no salvation (i.e., no saving ordinances = same thing) outside the LDS Church.

Faithful Mormons also believe that Christ is the head of the LDS Church and actively leads and guides it through the instrumentality of His chosen prophet (i.e., the President of the Church), who is in turn assisted in this work by other apostles.  Whatever is spoken by these prophets and apostles becomes “scripture” in the minds of most LDS because it reflects the “mind and will of the Lord” (although there have been very few additions to the official canon of LDS scripture since the death of the Church’s founder, Joseph Smith). 

Youth in the Church, and particularly missionaries, are taught that obedience is the “first law of heaven,” which basically means that it has effectively become, in our day, the first principle of the Gospel (rather than faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as Joseph Smith taught).  They are taught to obey the “commandments” (which loosely refers to a code of conduct that entitles one to be considered worthy to enter into a temple of the Church), and to obey leaders, which includes giving heed to their pronouncements and “counsel.”

Of course, there are many LDS who hold more nuanced beliefs concerning the degree to and manner in which the president of the Church and the other apostles receive and convey “revelation” or “inspired counsel” and “direction” and how such “upstream” counsel meshes with one’s own personal spiritual guidance; but – particularly for young men fresh off their missions, following the Brethren is how one follows Christ:  they are one and the same (a statement with which, I am confident, many if not most, members of the Church would approvingly concur).

So what have the Brethren had to say about homosexuality over the course of the last 40 years?  Here are a few quotes:

“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. No one is locked into that kind of life. From our pre-mortal life we were directed into a physical body. There is no mismatching of bodies and spirits. Boys are to become men --masculine, manly men -- ultimately to become husbands and fathers. No one is predestined to a perverted use of these powers.”” – Elder Boyd K. Packer, 1976

“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 …

      “Is sexual perversion wrong?  The answer: It is not all right. It is wrong! It is not desirable; it is unnatural; it is abnormal; it is an affliction … Do not be misled by those who whisper that it is part of your nature and therefore right for you. That is false doctrine! …

      “Is this tendency impossible to change? Is it preset at the time of birth and locked in? …  Much of the so-called scientific literature concludes that there really is not much that can be done about it. I reject that conclusion out of hand … It is not unchangeable …

      “If it is wrong, and if it is not incurable, how can it be corrected? … The cause of this disorder has remained hidden for so long because we have been looking for it in the wrong place ... Have you explored the possibility that the cause when found, will turn out to be a very typical form of selfishness - selfishness in a very subtle form? … It is hard to believe that any individual would, by a clear, conscious decision or by a pattern of them, choose a course of deviation …”

“Establish a resolute conviction that you will resist for a lifetime, if necessary, any deviate thought or deviate action. Do not respond to those feelings; suppress them …”

 Elder Boyd K. Packer, “To the One” (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
These were some of the pronouncements of apostles and prophets that had defined the issue of homosexuality at the point when I joined the Church and married in the 1980’s.  The following video clip tells the story of one Mormon couple who married in the early 80’s in this environment.  He knew he was gay, didn’t tell her, came out many years later.  They discuss their story, what happened, and how they’re “dealing” with it.

Though there was some “softening” of the doctrine in the 1990’s, there was no significant change until within the past decade:

“... it is clear that any sexual relationship other than that between a legally wedded heterosexual husband and wife is sinful. The divine mandate of marriage between man and woman puts in perspective why homosexual acts are offensive to God. They repudiate the gift and the Giver of eternal life.” – Encyclopedia of Mormonism, v. 2, “Homosexuality,” by Victor L. Brown (1992)

“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 Oaks, 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, writing in the Ensign (official Church magazine), 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
Even though the Church (as an institution) no longer considers homosexuality curable, no longer considers merely being gay a sin and has admitted that it doesn’t know what “causes” homosexuality – the culture and background represented by the foregoing quotes is pervasively and firmly ensconced in the hearts and minds of members throughout the Church, including many parents, bishops, stake presidents and – as we have recently seen – general authorities, including members of the Quorum of the Twelve.  (This phenomenon no doubt in part accounts for, among other things, the troubling tendency for gay members to be dealt with differently in different wards and stakes throughout the Church.)

The point, of course, is that young men in the Church were taught quite forcefully a generation ago that experiencing same-sex attraction was a grave sin, was the result of a “choice” and could be “cured.”  This was the premise for the Church advising men with “same sex attraction” to marry women. 

Though the institutional Church no longer advises gay men to “marry the gay away,” as reflected in comments by President Gordon B. Hinckley (see below), anecdotal evidence suggests that the old beliefs and attitudes still exist among bishops, stake presidents and mission presidents. In other words, the old counsel to marry the gay away is still being given, albeit less formally. 

Furthermore, if one examines President Hinckley’s actual words carefully, one sees some things lurking among the “weeds” that are never mentioned by those who like to use this quote to defend the Church.  He actually said:

“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” (emphasis added). 

See the background attitudes? I think there is a fair inference that President Hinckley believed that, though marriage shouldn’t be used as a therapeutic tool to “overcome” homosexuality, there were “therapeutic” measures available that could accomplish this goal (e.g., “clearly be overcome”). There was enough grist there for Dean Byrd to put the following gloss on President Hinckley’s words, immediately following the above quotation, in a 1999 article in the Ensign.  “When homosexual difficulties have been fully resolved,” wrote Byrd,heterosexual feelings can emerge, which may lead to happy, eternal marriage relationships” [emphasis added]. 

A similar situation exists regarding the Church’s teaching with respect to merely being gay (i.e., as opposed to acting on one’s same-sex attraction), which has evolved from 30 years ago to the point where the official position of the Church (to the extent there is one) is now that merely being gay is not a sin.  Once again, however, this “official” position is filtered through the minds of bishops, stake presidents and mission presidents throughout the Church.

The fact remains that there is still an overwhelming dogmatic stigma in the Church that attaches to homosexuality.  (And I think it should be noted that the “Church” is both a religion/theology and a culture comprised of doctrine, practices, procedures and cultural overlays over all three; all of these aspects/elements of what constitutes the “Church” impact the LDS “position” on homosexuality.)

Reparative therapy is still very much alive.  Evergreen is thriving, apparently.  Despite advances in science and societal understanding of homosexuality, the plain fact of the matter is that most devout young Mormon men who “suffer” from “same sex attraction” do not, because of the Church’s historical teachings regarding homosexuality, want to be saddled with this attraction and will go to great lengths to deny it and, failing that, to demonstrate that it can be “overcome” – through the Mormon ideal of temple marriage.

I close this lengthy post with the song “Turn it Off” from the Book of Mormon Musical, which, in my view, is spot on as to what it says about same-sex attraction (and Mormon “cognitive dissonance” generally).


  1. While I have enjoyed your series over the course of the last few days, I have to say I cringe every time I see the title “Mormon Beards” because I find the slang term highly offensive. I am Mormon and was formerly married to a gay man. The term “Mormon Beard” is very derogatory, and ugly slang term. When I hear the term to describe a Mormon woman married to a gay man it makes me feel like sub-par individual lacking any value. And that feeling is universally true among straight wives of gay men. I don’t believe you are using the term to be offensive, and you probably did not realize how offensive it is to straight wives, but like any slang term, when it is used in ANY context it perpetuates making it a commonly accepted word or phrase. I know there are lots of slang words that straight people use when referencing gay people that gay people find highly offensive. I have seen the outcry from gay individuals to stop the use of these slang words because they perpetuate hate, and that outcry is justified because those slang terms do perpetuate hate. The use of “Mormon Beard” or “beard” perpetuates a second class status to ALL straight wives married to gay men, and denotes an ugliness. How about you stop using a slang term that is offensive to straight wives so that we too can rise from the ashes, just like our gay husbands.

  2. It was this culture and understanding that homosexuality was something like a disease that contributed to my lack of understanding of who I am. I really didn't come to that understanding until my mid-twenties, when I was married and had a kid. Being gay was a perversion, something dirty. I didn't feel that way about myself. I didn't spend a lot of time reflecting on why I thought about handsome guys from time to time or why I wasn't filled with this overwhelming drive to make out with girls. I thought I was just insecure about my looks and that I was focused on the right things first--school and mission. Of course, if I ever had had a friend who was more affectionate or also attracted to other guys, I would have figured things out much sooner, but no such friend entered my life.
    Now I find myself understanding myself better, sharing this with my wife who is coping, and with 4 young kids at home. I am not suffering in my marriage. I am at times indifferent with Church, but generally find it positive. Right now I am continuing on the path of a committed marriage and church attendance, but it's definitely not the same as before. I am re-evaluating a lot, but I do not doubt my wife and I are really good for each other. If I were to be asked by a single, gay member of the church if marriage were right for him, I would not give it a ringing endorsement, but wouldn't discount it either. Instead, I would make sure he takes his time to consider and to make sure his girlfriend was fully aware of the circumstances.
    Thanks for these posts. They are very insightful.

  3. Pieces of Me: I really appreciate you bringing this to my attention and sharing your perspective. You are right - I wasn't using it to be offensive. I understand and very much appreciate the viewpoint you have shared, and I will stop using it for future posts.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, and I hope you and perhaps other straight wives whom you know might consider sharing more of your thoughts and feelings and perspectives as this series continues.

  4. Crisco - I am glad that these posts resonate to a degree with you. The subtitle "Exploring the Issues" is really what this is all about: a chance to look at what has happened in our collective lives - our own as well as those of our straight spouses - over these past decades and an opportunity to share perspectives, not only with each other, but also with the rising generation.

    I very much hear what you are saying when you wrote about insecurities. I've thought about that recently as I've been reading Brent Kirby's new book, "Gay Mormons?" I have been reminded how there was a period in my life where I thought my attractions were based more on insecurities, envy and jealousy, rather than on something quite different - emotional and physical attraction. It was all so very difficult to figure out; but of course, there was a built-in reason to NOT figure it out, wasn't there?

    I'm glad for you that your marriage is going as well as it is. I certainly applaud those who are able to forge a path, once this knowledge is out in the open between spouses. As I've commented before, my wife wasn't/isn't one of those who can do that (but we had other issues as well).

    Bottom line is that it's all very complicated, which is why I believe it is SO important to have a forum to discuss these things, or just to bring them out in the open.

    Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now. Thanks for your comments!

  5. Like Pieces of Me, I also strongly dislike the term beard. I'm glad she spoke up about this. The word is disrespectful and even cruel (which I know is not your intent here).

    I also think the term is inaccurate in the situation you are describing. Mixed-orientation marriages are not sham mariages. They are real marriages, and when they fail they are capable of causing tremendous sorrow.

    Just because a marriage includes elements of profound emotional and passionate incompatibility does not mean that it is a false marriage. The partners deserve our respect and our support, which would not be the case in a sham marriage (such as a marriage-for-show that perpetrates insurance or immigration fraud).