From Sodomy to Sympathy: Evolution of Mormon Approaches to Homosexuality
As Randell came up out of the water, having been immersed for the baptism of his sins, his face shone with the serenity of an angel. His bleached blonde hair dripped with the water of his justification; he was born anew. I and the other missionary who had taught him, helped pull him up out of the font in our church, and I gave him a firm hug. “Thank you”, he whispered in my ear, as both of our eyes near burst with tears. I took a look at Randell, and could hardly believe what I was seeing. This was a new man.
This scene I viewed, shined in bright contrast to when I had met him on a cold October night in Richmond Kentucky, while serving as a Mormon (LDS) minister. He was wearing a skirt and blouse, had long hair, wore makeup and spoke effeminately. I had no doubt in my mind but that he was a woman. I told him I could not enter his home, as it is a rule of Mormon missionaries, to not enter the home of one of the opposite sex, unless another adult of your own gender is present.
As I and my fellow missionary taught him, I soon learned “she” was a “he”. He changed little by little, without us having to mention anything specifically that he changed. We taught him about God’s plan for him, and he repented on his own accord. He stopped wearing dresses, cut his hair, no longer painted his face. He began to talk in a deeper, more natural voice, than the one he used before. He stopped practicing homosexuality, ended his addiction to drugs, and no longer felt the need to kill himself. He even got himself a girlfriend, and they spoke of marriage, having an eternal family, and even children. His entire world had flipped upside down! He told me, “I have not felt happy in years, but now, now I feel happy.” Randell was able to realize his worth in the sight of God, but not for who he was; but for who God was going to make out of him. Our lives have never been the same since.
I often hear Mormons speak of the need for their church to be accepting of homosexuals. They say things such as, “By attempting to change who I am through faithfulness/obedience created an environment that bred self-hatred, shame, deep depression, hopelessness, and guilt” (Bradshaw 322). The community of homosexuals within the Mormon church, and those who support them, feel it is morally wrong to suppose homosexuals can change their behavior, and that the church ought to just accept them the way that they are. (Harrison 5). This community of homosexual supporters is growing, as shown by recent studies,
The results of recent surveys suggest a movement toward accommodation and approval, especially among younger generations, both with respect to legal issues and at the level of personal relationships. There are also indications of a recent shift in attitude toward homosexuality in the LDS church [leadership]. A softened tone and language suggesting greater inclusiveness are evident in a video on the subject released in 2012.
The problem with this movement, is that there is great support for it, as one Bishop estimated, “at least sixty percent of the members of our ward were struggling with this” (Gustav-Wrathel 213). This becomes a problem because the Mormon church teaches that heterosexual marriage is essential for their salvation in the afterlife (Peterson 757), and their leaders, such as Spencer W. Kimball, have “unequivocally denounced both homosexual behavior and same-sex romantic feelings” (Bradshaw 312). Many academics today, say that homosexuality is not something that can be changed. They state, “So I’m here, I’m queer, I’m Mormon. Get used to it” (Gustav-Wrathel 215). They are unwilling to change. Instead, they demand the church change its stance to fit their new paradigm (Bradshaw 323).
The solution to this growing problem is really quite simple: Mormons need to be educated concerning what their religion is, what homosexuality is, and how their God views homosexuality. They need to oppose homosexuality as nothing but an abomination, and that those who struggle with that sin, can find healing by turning to God. The arguments posed by homosexual sympathizers in the LDS church are nothing more than diversions from what the real problem is. They are seeking to create a new god and church after their own image, rather than seeking to change themselves to align to the image God has given them. The danger arises from the fact that the LDS church has softened its position concerning LGB issues, paving the way for accommodation and appeasement. When we view evil as something to be tolerated and accepted, no longer do we fight the good fight, but we welcome it with open arms.
Mormonism is a sect of Christianity, which claims to be the one and only true church of God. Central to their beliefs, is that in order to obtain the highest position of salvation in the afterlife, one must have a heterosexual marriage (Cragun 292). In addition to this belief, is that of the authority held by their leaders. Mormons believe that the president of their church, and the highest ranking 14 men under him, are prophets, seers and revelators, and are actively led by Jesus Christ (Oman 1). When the leader of their church speaks in an official capacity, his words are seen as scripture, as if uttered from the mouth of God (Cragun 294). Their president has the authority to change scripture, to contradict scripture, and to contradict any previous LDS leader, including God. They do so because they believe the living president of the LDS Church is more important than any scripture or revelation contained in LDS canon (ibid 295). This understanding is important when considering changing LDS perspectives on homosexuality, and the possibility of authoritatively changing their current views of family.
Most members of the Mormon church would view it as an impossibility that their leaders would ever adopt a policy or doctrinal change, to allow for homosexual relations to be church sanctioned; and therefore in Mormons eyes, God sanctioned. This issue however, has already repeated itself in Mormonism’s brief history. Brigham Young, second president of the LDS church, stated that the church would never abandon polygamy, and that to reject polygamy would damn you (Journal of Discourses 3:266). This was repeated by subsequent leaders of the LDS church, but eventually the practice was abandoned (Official Declaration 1). This same type of seeming contradiction occurred with the issue of black members of the LDS church not being able to mix nor hold priesthood. Wilford Woodruff, fourth president of the LDS church, stated that those who procreate with the black race, must “come forward and have his head cut off… [and] also take the life of his children” (Personal Diary 4:97). Yet today, this type of speech is totally rejected as evil, including any denial of priesthood blessings (Official Declaration 2). Given such harsh and diametrical opposition to giving up polygamy or giving the priesthood to blacks, but then the subsequent giving in, it is only reasonable to suppose that the same thing can occur with the LDS opposition to gay marriage. Whether you agree or disagree with those issues of the past, does not matter. What matters is that you see the possibility of change, given the patterns of history. This can be seen as especially plausible, given the LDS tone against homosexuality, which is much softer (Cragun 308).
A homosexual is one who engages in, or desires to engage in sexual relations with a person of their own gender. Basing his remarks on this line of thought, Elder Bednar, a high ranking member of the LDS church, who is viewed as a prophet, stated, “There are no homosexual members of the Church… We are not defined by sexual attraction. We are not defined by sexual behavior. We are sons and daughters of God” (Harrison 58). This comment offended Mormon homosexuals, including the author who quoted Bednar. They do want to be defined by their sexuality, and they want others to define them that way as well. Because homosexuals generally, do not see homosexuality as a choice, but something they are born with, they feel this defines them just as much as race or gender. The surprising truth however, is this idea has no basis scientifically nor historically.
Despite more than a hundred years of effort, scientists and theorists have been unable to devise a satisfactory scientific or medical theory that explains homosexuality as wholly a result of genes, germs, accidents, or other factors that are independent of culture… [thus] male sexual orientation, like obesity, smoking, intelligence, longevity, and many other behavior-related human characteristics, is determined by a combination of genetic and cultural factors… plus some element of human choice. In 1900, the percentage of nineteen-year-old unmarried white women with sexual experience was around 6 percent. By 1991, the percentage had risen to around 74 percent. Hence, although premarital sex has always been with us, it seems fair to conclude that the likelihood that any particular woman will engage in premarital sex is determined more by cultural influences than by genetics or any other form of predisposition. (Muhelstein 16,21)
So, while it is true that a form of homosexuality has existed throughout human history, the homosexuality of ages past was not viewed in the same way. From Rome to Greece to China, homosexual relations were practiced. This type of activity however, usually involved a master over a slave, or an adult man over a young boy. It also oftentimes involved pagan rituals (ibid 23). It was considered a dishonor to be the passive participant. It was seen as a rite of passage that younger boys went through, and they only became the active player when they were old enough, and were then given a boy of their own. Thus until modern times, homosexuality usually involved rape and pedophilia, mixed in with heathenism. In all of these cultures, this homosexual action was considered a choice (Muhelstein 24). It was never considered in any great degree, something someone was born with that could not be fought. Nearly all of the practicing homosexuals of the ancient world, also engaged in sexual relations with women, or even animals. It was considered a passion to be satisfied, more than a defining of one’s nature. The idea that being homosexual somehow made someone different, which could not be altered, was not developed until the second half of the 1800’s (ibid 26).
We can now clearly see, that it has been cultural influence which has most strongly advanced the growing definition of homosexuality, and our views towards it. The modern approach to the issue of homosexuality is a false social construct, but which is rarely challenged because it is not popular to do so. When preparing this essay, I found more information supporting homosexuality in the Mormon church than I could read in a year. In conjunction with this, I found only a small portion of academics willing to even challenge the issue to the smallest degree. It seems that it is the popularity of an idea that promulgates belief; not whether or not it is valid.
Approaches to Homosexuality by the LDS Church
Contrary to popular belief held by the members of mainstream Mormonism, the church leadership has had an evolving position towards homosexuals. Up until the late 1980’s, church leadership spoke of homosexuality with terms such as “abomination”, “perversion”, “sodomy”, “evil”; but beginning in the 1990’s until today, has emphasized the use of terms such as “accepting”, “tolerance” and “understanding” (Gustav-Wrathell, Trial 90). In the 1970’s, “Peterson [a leader viewed as a prophet] decried the notion of… homosexuality as a zero-sum game wherein societies must be either for or against Jesus and prepare for the consequences of their decision” (Cragun 297). Both Peterson and every other LDS church leader who mentioned the topic, did so stressing that the tolerance of homosexuality, will lead to God’s wrath upon America. All of the LDS elites spoke “of homosexuality as a destructive force”, as a sign of impeding societal doom, but this type of rhetoric ended by the 1990’s (ibid 298).
In the 1986 Ensign, an official publication of the LDS church, it declared, “We also need to teach our children plainly that homosexuality is a perversion” (ibid 300), but by 2002 said, “Do not attach labels to yourself or others who struggle with this problem. We all have temptations” (ibid 304). Prior to 1990, over 90% of Mormons saw homosexuality as always wrong, but by 2012 only 77% held the same view (ibid 305). Thus we see, that with the leaders of the LDS church’s softening tone, there has been a perfect parallelism to the rise of their members accepting homosexuality.
Mormon Views of Homosexuality
Both for those in academia (Bahr 463), and the average lay member (Chou 438), the position of the Mormon church of opposition to homosexuality, has been seen negatively. They “feel” that maybe homosexuality really isn’t a sin, and maybe God will even allow these relationships to be eternal (Gustav-Wrathell, Trial 84). One of these supporters, a self-identified gay Mormon, even suggested that the LDS church policy of viewing those who practice gay marriage as apostates, and of not allowing children of these marriages to be baptized, was akin to sacrificing babies into the fires of Molech (Harrison 59). The irony of his statement is that those in Ancient Palestine that literally sacrificed their children to Molech, also oftentimes practiced sodomy, as a direct opposition to the commands of God (Leviticus 18:22).
This group of Mormons has even gone so far as to say that they personally have received revelations from God, accepting of what they do and believe (Gustav-Wrathell 212), even though it is contrary to the scriptures these Mormons claim to accept as God’s revealed word (Romans 1:26-27). This dilemma becomes increasingly odd because scientific data shows that the more strongly someone feels about their homosexuality, the more likely they will be to reject their religion (Cragun 323). More recently there has been a change however, and LDS homosexuals are not leaving as they once were. It seems that while the older generation of homosexuals simply left the church, the younger generations, emboldened by the soft, appeasement type language, no longer feel the need to leave, but only the need to change the church (Harrison 5). The homosexuals and their supporters within Mormonism, now feel welcome (Gustav-Wrathel 210), and “believe that we gay Saints need the Church and the Church needs us” (Gustav-Wrathel, Trial 83). While up to the 1990’s, homosexuals in Mormonism would have felt the same condemnation as pedophiles, rapists, adulterers, fornicators, or those practicing bestiality, the gay Mormons of today feel so bold as to say that God approves of what they do, and soon the Church will too (Gustave-Wrathel 213). What was once seen as a cancer to be cast away so as not to affect the body, has now been welded into every congregation as a source of hope.
The God of Mormonism
As was mentioned before, Mormons believe their God, is the one and only true God. They believe their God, is the God of the Bible. They also believe that Mormonism, was the religion of Jesus, and the religion of Adam. This is important to understand, because if this is the God the Mormons claim to follow, then Mormons must understand what this, their God, thinks of homosexuality.
Throughout my research, I found the supporters of homosexuality in Mormonism, often used the phrases “I believe” or “I feel” (Gustav-Wrathel Trial 83-84), and quoted the living leaders of the church; while those not in favor of it, quoted LDS scripture or earlier LDS leaders now dead (Muhelstein 5). The trend of LDS authorities to bend to conformity with what the world demands of them, and the acceptance of LDS members to conform to the will of their leaders, gives us a dangerous foreshadowing of what could easily follow. This extends beyond simply Mormonism however, as “many American Christians and Jews, while retaining much of the Judeo-Christian tradition, disregard or deemphasize those portions of the Bible (such as the prohibition of homosexual relations) that they find primitive or inconsistent with modern scientific or ethical thinking” (Muhelstein 6). Despite these trends, what does the God the Mormons claim to believe in, think of homosexuality?
The most condemning and clear verse in existence, from the mouth of the God of Mormonism himself, declares, “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:13). New Testament sources not already accounted for in this paper, include 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and 1 Timothy 1:10, which unequivocally judge homosexuality as a crime against God which will deprive the guilty of entrance into God’s heavenly residence. Homosexuality is not mentioned in the Book of Mormon, so must not have been an issue for those people, although, the Book of Mormon peoples, were a Torah keeping people, and so would have been opposed to it. With the founding of Mormonism through Joseph Smith, there are no revelations included in either the Doctrine and Covenants or Pearl of Great Price (scriptural records produced by Joseph Smith) which make any mention of homosexuality. Some in the gay community have seen this as evidence that God is now okay with homosexuality (Gustav-Wrathel 82), but it is more likely, that just as with the Book of Mormon, it was a non-issue in that time.
This position is logical, as “Fifty years ago the suggestion that tens of thousands of people would someday want their genitals surgically altered so that they could change their sex would have been ludicrous. But it has happened” (Muhelstein 29). Muhelstein likewise noted that his mother, born in 1928, had never even heard the word “homosexual” until she was at least twenty, nor did she know any growing up. Muhelstein then mentions his own experience of never knowing any gay men in high school, but now his children, who are in high school, can name several male and female homosexuals in each of their classes (ibid 27). Is this change really due to millions of more people being born with this inherent gayness, or does culture have a hand in this? Is the belief system of the God of Christianity really so outdated, or is it simply unpopular?
Up until the late 1990’s, LDS ecclesiastical leaders were encouraged to help gays to overcome their gayness, through prayer and repentance and even heterosexual marriage (Gustav-Wrathel, Trial 80). This was once taught as something that could be “controlled and overcome” (Bradshaw 312), but today, these views are no longer openly taught. This issue is especially frustrating to me, as I know first-hand, from Randell, that it is possible to those who trust in their God enough.
The leaders of Mormonism will ultimately chart whatever course they deem to be in the best interest of their religion. Whether this course will follow what the God of their religion would have them follow, is another matter entirely. The people of Mormonism can help direct this course however. If the populace of the LDS church continues with the current trajectory, it will not be many years before over 50% of Mormons view homosexual marriage as an appropriate activity. Mormons must become educated, and raise an intelligent cry to stop this erosion of their faith.
Current LDS members today, would be and have been excommunicated for promoting either polygamy, or racial bans on mixing and the priesthood, though people were once under threat of excommunication if they did not support those same policies. If the LDS church follows these same patterns; while people are still currently being excommunicated for homosexual relations, it could be a few years hence, and Mormons will be getting excommunicated for doing things like reading Leviticus from the pulpit.
I know several teachings from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, where if I simply quoted them, with no interpretation at all, I could still be excommunicated if I did not cease to do so. They would not be welcome in the church they helped found. I once shared a revelation given by Joseph Smith to an Old Testament class I was taking, and all of the students became so enraged with me, they’d have stoned me if we were living in ancient Judea. My professor told the class I was correct three times, but they still would not accept it. They began to throw out personal insults towards Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, because they were so offended by his words, as it so conflicted with their ideas of what was true. Whether you agree with the LDS church past or present policies regarding marriage and racial issues, is irrelevant, what is relevant is that you see cycle of history, and understand it is not unrealistic for it to repeat again; in fact, it seems to be fate.
Mormons need to decide which God they worship. For if they worship the God of the Bible, then they cannot ever accept homosexuality as being anything other than an abomination. But if they instead believe in the God of whoever their current leader says he is, then they will continue, but the Mormonism of their fathers, will cease to exist.