Thursday, September 1, 2011

Homosexuality and the Atonement

A couple of days ago, I wrote about journal-keeping.  Today’s post is a slightly reworked version of a post I originally published back in December of last year, when I was very much in the throws of coming out.

Occasionally (particularly while on my mission), I would write honestly about the “struggles” I faced with respect to homosexuality.  Long ago, however, I went through and “sanitized” my journal, ripping out pages that contained these entries and destroying them.  I didn’t want to leave any record behind that would indicate that I was a closet homo.  (After all, I never knew when I might get hit by a bus.)

I was therefore surprised, when upon reviewing my journal from the seven-month (!) period between returning home from my mission and my marriage, I discovered several forthright entries that had escaped the purge.  Though I wrote in euphemisms, it is clear what I was struggling with and the anguish I felt as I was trying to decide which path to take:  marriage or a path that would likely lead to life as a gay man. 

Even though these things were written years ago, I found them hauntingly relevant to what I was going through in the weeks following my first tentative steps out of the closet, as I finally accepted who I am and faced the consequences of the choice I made to get married.

I had met my wife prior to my mission and we had corresponded regularly while I was away.  We had talked about marriage and were both looking toward that very real possibility.  When I got home, we experienced an extremely tempestuous courtship that was complicated by the fact that she had moved several hundred miles away.

The real complicating factor, however – at least for me – was my struggle with what to do about my gayness.  At one point during this period, I wrote in my journal:  “I am still dealing with a problem which has plagued me for some time – accepting myself as I am and acknowledging that I am sinful.”

I guess I should pause here to point out the obvious:  I was in Mosiah 3:19 territory.  For those who read this who may not be Mormon, this is a very well-known scripture from the Book of Mormon that is learned by every missionary and is often referred to in talks, whether in the local ward sacrament meeting or in the general conference of the Church:

“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” 

I was telling myself that I needed to accept the fact that I was gay; but instead of affirming my homosexuality, I believed that homosexuality (1) was of the “natural man,” (2) that it made me an enemy of God, and (3) that could be “cured” or, more appropriately, forgiven and washed away by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  (The trick was to figure out how this was to be done.)  In other words, I had to accept that I was gay before I had any hope of ceasing to be gay.

I continued writing in my journal:  “How proud I am!  I have such a difficult time accepting that I may be (am) bad by nature.  I wonder, “Why me?!”  “Why I am this way?  I know it’s wrong, but I’m that way by nature.”  Why can’t I be like others who seem to have such an easy time with the commandments?  It’s sometimes very easy for someone to say, “Repent!”; but it’s another thing entirely to deal with feelings, emotions and one’s very nature.”

On the one hand, I thought that if I could just accept myself as by nature (i.e., inherently) bad because I was gay (which premise, you will notice, I accepted without question), then I could be changed.  On the other hand, I nevertheless seemed to recognize that changing homosexuality was not a matter of repentance, but involved somehow being able to change one’s very nature.

“When I came into the Church, I thought for a long time that my very nature had changed by accepting the Gospel.  I had convinced myself that I was really a great guy and everyone around me fed those feelings.  I was such a “special,” “special” “golden” convert.  I built myself up to the point where I felt that I was indeed special … I thought I couldn’t fall because my nature is good.  Well, I found out that I can fall …”

As I written elsewhere, I thought that joining the Church would give me a highway out of homo hell.  I basked in the love and acceptance I was given as a new convert and truly believed that I was a “golden boy” who would “go far” in the Church.  Then, I got out on my mission and started hitting some pretty monumental gay speed bumps.  By the end of my mission, I knew that I was still gay; or in my own words, I was “fallen” (and I didn’t even [get to] do anything).

I wrestled with what I should do about marrying this woman.  On the one hand, I felt like marriage would be a mistake; on the other, I thought maybe this was how God was going to “cure” me, i.e., through the love of a good woman and my own dedication to following the “priesthood path.”  In other words, “faith precedes the miracle,” [a title of a well-known book written by Church President Spencer W. Kimball] and I would “receive no witness until after the trial of my faith.”  Translation:  I would have to steadfastly walk the “priesthood path,” and I would eventually discover that my same sex attraction was fading away like mist before the sun. Little did I know how wrong I was.

I wrote in my journal:  “I am passing through hell, or so it feels like at times.  I have never come so close to feeling that everything could be lost.  I’m so very, very confused … The choices facing me are:  (1) abandon the standards I have strived to maintain for almost three years, leading to a life of inactivity and possible excommunication, or (2) marry [my wife], or (3) ? … The time has come for me to accept my past and who I am.  If I want to stay in the Church, then I’m going to have to make some compromises.  I do want to stay in the church.  I want to feel the power of the Atonement change my nature – but I know it can rarely be done overnight.”

In other words, I had swallowed the Church’s line:  homosexuality was a choice, and I was being confronted with a choice.  I could choose to accept the fact that I was gay, then “apply the Atonement” so that I could be changed/cleansed of this affliction; or I could choose to accept the fact that I was gay and choose to not put forth the effort to change, i.e., give in and live life as a gay man.  Or I could try to asphyxiate my gayness and tell myself that I merely experienced an attraction to men which could be overcome through marriage and commitment to the priesthood path – which was really the first choice in different clothes.  I opted for this route, but I eventually (many years later) learned that the Atonement is not intended to “change” what God already accepts:  the Atonement is designed to change man’s nature, not his sexual orientation.


  1. It took me a while to finally decide to get married, at least by Utah standards. For me, it was a continual concern about whether or not I could do everything the Lord expected of me, coupled with the thought that if I actually did all of those things, then "my issue" would be resolved.

    This was a problem that ripped me up. It was something so shameful that I couldn't share it with anyone so I tried to make sure it stayed well hidden.

    Of course I realized for years that I was attracted to guys, but even to admit to myself that I was gay was a hurdle I could not overcome for a long time. Years later when I actually was able to come out to my mom, one of her responses was, "I'm so sorry that you've had to deal with this burden alone for so many years."

    The damage we do to people dealing with this is pretty horrendous, but I think it's changing.

    I know of a sixth grade teacher who has had students insult other kids by calling them "gay." She has told them, "It doesn't matter whether or not someone is gay, but you can't use that term to insult someone in my class."

    Even as I struggle through the results of my past choices and fears, I feel hope for the future, both my future and the future of those who are coming into their own.

    Invictus, thank you for providing this forum.

  2. Utahhiker, I was struck very powerfully by your comment about what your mother said when you finally came out to her.

    When you stop to think about her love for you and her response, "I'm so sorry that you've had to deal with this burden alone" ... can we imagine, just imagine, what the Savior's response would be if we finally take this burden to Him and hear His response:

    "I'm so sorry that you've had to deal with this burden alone for so many years."

    He was there all along, of course, but so very, very many of us have refused to believe that He was there, that He loves us the way we are, that He accepts us.

    Thank you for sharing.

  3. Great post. It is interesting how we each have had to deal with being gay. I, too, remember growing up and really thinking I was just a bad egg that had to do all I could to become good. And, funny thing, I was really a pretty good kid.

    I started accepting that I wasn't automatically going to Hell before my mission, but it was after my mission that I realized that I was born gay and born of God and that neither was a bad thing. I could be gay and still be a good person.

    The next step, which took some time, too, was to decide that being gay wasn't a hurdle or trial in my life. It wasn't "my burden to carry" in life ... or to overcome. Being gay is more of a gift or talent.

    Of course, I am still working at it, but I am very comfortable being gay and even being religious. I love my relationship with my Heavenly Father and my Savior. And, I look to improve on it every day. Pretty good for 30-some years of working on it.

    I am not a regular reader, but am a first time responder. Thanks, again, for your post.