Friday, November 11, 2011

Stopping Spiritual Bullying: What the Church Can Do Immediately

One of the most interesting questions posed during last Saturday afternoon’s panel discussion at the Circling the Wagons Conference on the future of gay Mormons was something like, “What can the Church do immediately to make things better, i.e., for GLBT members of the Church?”

I have to say that I had been somewhat disappointed in the tenor of the panel discussion.  I frankly felt like the elephant in the living room (i.e., LDS doctrine concerning homosexuality) was being ignored.  I was feeling a bit frustrated until this question was posed to the panelists.

Carol Lynn Pearson’s response was direct and to the point.  Paraphrasing, she said that the Church needs to give permission, e.g., through a conference address by a ranking general authority, to parents to love, welcome and accept their gay, lesbian and transgendered children.  What a remarkable statement (!) that goes to the heart of much that is wrong in the LDS Church on this issue.  So many parents who are “faithful” members of the Church believe that, if their child comes out to them, they have to choose between the child and the Church, and they perhaps more often than not choose the Church.

But given the rhetoric that has come from the highest levels of the Church (e.g., President Packer’s October 2010 Conference address), is it any wonder that many devout Mormon parents react to their gay children as if they are infected with a leprous disease that will contaminate them and their home if they – gasp – accept and love their son or daughter even though they have come out to them? 

A few months ago, a very good friend of mine was traveling on Trax (Salt Lake City’s mass transit system) with a friend and they encountered a group of homeless gay youth.  Every one of them had been kicked out of their home or felt driven to leave.  One of the young men was the son of a stake president.

Surely, the Church leadership is responsible for such tragic situations and has a moral responsibility to speak out against the spiritual bullying that has occurred from pulpits – both in the Conference Center as well as in ward houses and stake centers across the country and, indeed, the world – as well as in living rooms from one end of the Church to the other.

Carol Lynn’s comments were followed by Dr. Bill Bradshaw’s surprisingly direct response.  Paraphrasing, he said he didn’t see why it was that difficult to simply act (remember, he was directing his comments toward the Church) like Christians.  The comment was so unexpected and so truthful and powerful that the entire sanctuary erupted in applause.  I can’t wait to see it on video when is able to upload it.

The Long Arm of Ecclesiastical Homophobia

Since Saturday, two incidents have reminded me of other things the Church could do immediately to make things better for GLBT Mormons.  This past Sunday, I received an email from a young LDS gay man who had, along with other members of his priests quorum, just been given a copy of “For Young Men Only” by his bishop. 

I have written about this pamphlet – which consists of the text of a talk (available here) given by Elder Boyd K. Packer in Priesthood Session of October Conference 1976 – several times; see here, here and  here.  The Church could immediately direct all of its branch presidents, bishops and stake presidents to not use that pamphlet anymore.  As I have previously pointed out, it – perhaps alone of all conference addresses in the last 40 years – is NOT available on the Church’s online Conference archives.  If the Church can withdraw it from its website, could it not withdraw it from circulation – period?

The other incident involves the pending Church discipline of Benjamin Clark, with which many readers are probably familiar.  He married his husband in a legal and lawful ceremony in Connecticut a few months ago and is now facing Church discipline for being in a committed, loving, legal marriage.  Earlier this week, he met with his stake president, who placed a copy of a pamphlet before Benjamin – a pamphlet entitled “A Letter to a Friend,” with which I had not previously been familiar. 

This pamphlet was originally written in 1971 by Elder Spencer W. Kimball with input from Elder Mark E. Peterson – easily two of the most homophobic Church leaders in recent memory.  As pointed out on Affirmation’s website, “Elder Kimball was getting his information about homosexuality from popular magazines, rather than from prayer, revelation, or inspiration. In New Horizons, Kimball quotes a June 11, 1965 Life story and a January 1965 issue of Psychiatric Spectator. Elder Kimball's views are today as obsolete as his sources.”

It is simply astonishing that this pamphlet is still being used by local Church leaders in their “ministry” to LGBT persons.  If the Church is serious about reaching out to its gay members, and to the gay community generally, if the Church is serious about stopping spiritual bullying, it could and should direct that this pamphlet be immediately withdrawn from circulation.  This and other publications such as “To Young Men Only,” have inflicted untold harm on generations of men (and women).  Isn’t it time that they be repudiated by the Church, if not publicly then at least in a directive to the thousands of bishops, branch presidents and district and stake presidents throughout the world?


  1. What a great post Joseph. May I use it to post on the Christian Gay forum I belong to? The owner/moderator Mary Pearson has made me an advisor on the group and has started pages for various religious groups that come to her website. She started a Mormon page because of me and puts good stuff for Mormons and ex-Mormons on her site.

  2. I honestly think they,meaning the leadership of the lds church, don't care about gay mormons since most end up leaving the church.

  3. Insightful post. Anyone can email me if they want copies of the homophobic pamphlets you reference: bradleycarmack at gmail.
    I was similarly impressed by both Carol Lynn's top-down and Bill's across-the-board suggestions.

  4. While I think there are some of the "old school" hierarchy in the church who don't care about the gay Mormon issue, I believe that the younger leaders are beginning to understand the problems which the church's strong stance against gays has caused for families.

    When a family chooses to embrace their gay child, it has a strong possibility of creating a wedge between the family and the church. A while ago, I read the statistics about the high percentage of those families who ultimately leave the church because they choose to embrace their gay child. I tried finding that article to reference in my comments, but I couldn't locate it just now.

    If the church did as Carol Lynn suggests (have a high ranking leader explicitly give permission for parents to love their LGBT children), I believe it would make it so parents didn't feel they had to choose between the two.

    After Packer's talk, my dad called me and told me, "If we ever had to choose between you and the church, we would choose you." If the church addressed this issue better (and repented of their prior cruelty), parents wouldn't feel the need to express such thoughts. This is why I think it is in the church's best interest - and the best interests of member families - to address this issue in a more loving manner.

  5. There is no doctrinal foundation for homophobia, just like there is no doctrinal justification for racism. The church could not only tell parents it's ok to love and accept their gay children, they could immediately stop slandering gay people by calling them "so called", stop justifying parents rejecting their gay children (Elder Oaks/Elder Wickman he said that parents wouldn't want to encourage "that kind of behavior" by allowing a partner to visit."
    There's also no doctrinal justification for telling people who are "struggling with Same-gender Attraction" that they need to go to therapy, they need to go to Evergreen. I appreciate in a sense what Evergreen does, but it's misleading and harmful. I think the heart of the matter is what Bill Bradshaw said. If the church is getting advice from people who don't know what they are talking about (Shirley Cox, A. Dean Byrd, Jeff Robinson) they need to stop consulting with these "Experts" and start talking to Bill Bradshaw and real scientists/psychologists who actually know something about LGBT issues and could help advise them to help LGBT members feel welcome and give sound therapy/counsel to help people to live fulfilling lives. There's no reason to continue to promote outdated methods for a cure and encourage therapy for "overcoming same-gender attraction" and continue a legacy of homophobia and discrimination. There's so much that could be done, even within the context of current rules/doctrine.

  6. How sad that parents need permission to love their child.

  7. That bishop must have pulled those from the vault. I thought that pamphlet hasn't been published for a while (I remember reading an article about a guy who campaigned and got them to pull a few outdated pamphlets, including that one). I can't find it on the Church distribution website. That's a good thing.

  8. Not only do they need to ban, collect and burn those pamphlets and several other outdated and harmful diatribes that were widely circulated in previous decades; they also need to completely remove the chapter in 'The Miracle of Forgiveness' called " A Crime Against Nature". That CHAPTER is the crime, not the gay people it maligns. How can you allow a book to remain in print that openly labels all homosexuals as 'perverts'?

  9. I wish they would give permission. There are some amazing parents who DO choose their children. They understand love... (I didn't come out as gay, but I did come out as asexual and left the church, and my parents love me and support me. I feel pretty darn lucky.)