Homosexuality and The Church of Jesus Christ:
Understanding Homosexuality According to the Doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
by A. Dean Byrd, Ph.D.
This book reprint is provided on the FAIR Web site with the gracious permission of the author. If you would like the actual book, refer to this page.
The issue of homosexuality provokes significant emotion in our society. The media has weighed in heavily on the issue of homosexuality with sound bites of tolerance and diversity from the secular world. Social and political developments such as homosexual marriage, homosexual adoption, homosexual clubs in the school system and “alternative families” have taken center stage in modern life. The Church has not been bypassed. While there has been a general scientific consensus that homosexual orientation is not biologically determined, (that is, there are many factors-biological, psychological, familial and cultural-involved in the development of homosexual orientation) there is less of a consensus about whether or not homosexuality is immutable.
Though the political battle wages on about homosexual rights, reputable scientists-many of whom are homosexual activists-admit that in the final analysis, homosexuality is not about science. Homosexual researcher and rights activist Dean Hamer concludes: “In short, biology is amoral; it offers no help distinguishing between right and wrong. Only people, guided by their values and beliefs, can decide what is moral and what is not.” (Hamer, 1994, The Science of Desire, p. 214)
In a similar vein, Anne-Fausto-Sterling, the Brown University biologist who is lesbian, noted “the way we consider homosexuality in our culture is an ethical and moral issue.” (New York Times, January 2, 2001)
It is from the moral perspective that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is and should be involved with the question of homosexual conduct. Specifically, The Church of Jesus Christ has been unshakably firm in its doctrine on homosexual contact. While reiterating the sanctity of marriage and the family and re-affirming the standard of conduct built on chastity, The First Presidency of the Church has declared that “Any other sexual contact, including fornication, adultery, and homosexual and lesbian behavior, is sinful.”(The First Presidency Letter, November 14, 1991 Standards of Morality and Fidelity.)
President Boyd K. Packer, in a recent conference address, while expressing love and offering compassion to those who struggle with homosexual attraction, declared that homosexual relations are “forbidden in the laws of God.” In further elaborating on these laws of God, he explains, “We did not make the laws; they were made in heaven `before the foundation of the world’. We are servants only.” (Conference Address, October 8, 2000)
Consistent with President Packer’s conference address, it is my desire to provide a theological perspective of the Church of Jesus Christ on the topic of homosexual relations by citing scriptural references and the words of Church leaders in such a way that is “straight, undiluted.” Though this may be a tough love approach for some, it is consistent with the scriptural admonition that “the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)
A Definition of Homosexuality
The key to understanding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ view of homosexuality is understanding how the Church defines homosexuality. The Church’s definition of such terms as “gay,” “lesbian,” or “homosexual” provides a significantly different perspective than that which is accepted by many in the world.
The Church of Jesus Christ defines homosexuality as any sort of “erotic thoughts, feelings, and behavior toward persons of the same sex.”1 In Church literature there is a clear distinction between homosexuality and heterosexuality; whereas contemporary psychologists and theorists have difficulty defining sexuality. For them, determining sexual identity is a complex process since they believe sexual identity emerges from a spectrum of acceptable sexual expressions determined by various elements of human biology and experience.2 The Church, however, disapproves any sort of homosexual activity no matter what the intent, motivation, or circumstance, regardless of biology and experience.
This definition requires some explanation. The Church of Jesus Christ does not condemn those who struggle with homosexual attraction; it does condemn homosexual behavior. Fundamental to Church teachings is the doctrine that all people are children of a loving Heavenly Father who desires their happiness. Happiness is achieved through abiding by certain commandments and teachings. Sexual acts between same-sex partners are disapproved of in the same manner as sexual acts between unmarried heterosexual partners or any other sin that is contrary to God’s plan for His children to return to Him.” (Neither does the Church approve of all forms of heterosexual behavior).
Like murder, adultery, or stealing or any other sinful behavior, the act itself is wrong; it does not matter if the person has a biological predisposition toward violence, promiscuity, or thievery. Also, childhood environments or societies where such activities are commonplace do not change or redeem these forms of moral misconduct. The Church believes that these practices, regardless of the circumstances of the actor, are sins in the eyes of God.
This policy of “hate the sin; love the sinner” is challenged by a population of people who have declared that their sexual preference is as natural to them as their brown hair, blue eyes, or short toes. In a way that is uncommon among other individuals who choose not to abide by Church teachings, those who commit homosexual acts have banded together in colleges, lobbies, and neighborhoods to gain support on various campuses, in legislatures, and in communities. As a result of a political agenda, some people across America and the world have accepted the homosexual lifestyle. In stark contrast, the Church rejects all homosexual behavior in spite of political movements that advocate total acceptance.
The polarization leaves a tremendous gulf between those on both sides of the issue. On the one hand, there are those who view homosexual attraction as a struggle to be overcome. Others refer to homosexual as an identity and celebrate their identity in homosexual community centers, homosexual college associations, and homosexual neighborhoods. In short, those who practice homosexual behaviors have centered their identities around -and celebrated-their sexual relations in a way that no other group ever has.
This presents the Church with an interesting problem with respect to its definition of homosexuality. No matter how often it asserts that homosexual acts are sinful and that the individual is a child of God with the potential to change, a zealous group of individuals continue to say, “we are homosexual” in a way that does not just refer to their behavior but also asserts their immutable nature. Thus the “gay” movement compares itself to the Civil Rights movement of the Sixties and has become one of the most divisive issues in recent political history. This movement sees the Church as not merely opposing a kind of behavior but opposing an entire developing culture; and by extension, discriminating against a segment of the population.
Nevertheless the Church has long recognized its peculiarity in the secular and religious worlds, and its stance on homosexual relations has only reaffirmed this distinction. Even as a few other churches have welcomed those who engage in homosexual relations, to the point of confirming homosexual clergy and performing same-sex marriage, the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ recently published a proclamation to the world in which the sanctity of marriage and the appropriate expression of intimacy between man and woman only in the bonds of marriage were reaffirmed.3
However, the political and social developments of the secular world have not bypassed the Church. Although the official Church position on homosexual relations has never changed, an address on the topic by Elder Spencer W. Kimball in the Sixties seemed to mark the beginning of a more frequent response to those who engage in homosexual acts.4 A decade later, in an address at Brigham Young University, Elder Boyd K. Packer stated the reason for the Church’s initial reluctance to speak openly about homosexual conduct:
There is a reason why we in the Church do not talk more openly about this subject. Some matters are best handled very privately. With many things it is easy-very easy-to cause the very things we are trying to avoid.5
He then offers the following anecdote:
On one occasion, with a friend of mine, I went to the medical center of a large university to see another friend who was a doctor there. In the waiting room before us was a low table covered with pamphlets describing various diseases. My friend observed: “Well, there they are. Read enough abut it and you’ll think you’ve got it.”6
Since that time, the increased social and cultural acceptance of this alternative lifestyle has relinquished any meaningful benefit of quiet disapproval. In the October 1995 Ensign, Elder Dallin H. Oaks contributed an entire article titled “Same-Gender Attraction”7; the following month’s issue contained a message from The First Presidency which dealt explicitly with homosexual relations.8 A 1993 pamphlet, “For the Strength of Youth,” discussed the Church’s disapproval of homosexual behavior, and numerous other conference talks and articles continue to reiterate the Church’s position. As the “world” has become more accepting of and vocal about homosexual conduct, the Church has become more outspoken against it.
A subtext to all of the Church’s statements is a tacit definition of homosexuality. Church leaders always denounced homosexual conduct, but the response of the Church has become more vocal and less private as this lifestyle gained acceptance in society. Although the exact wording is different, President Gordon B. Hinckley’s remarks in 1998 are very similar to President Kimball in 1970.9 What has changed is the increased attention the subject has received from more Church leaders including Elder Oaks.
What exactly is the Church’s response to homosexual relation? Unequivocally, homosexual relations are sinful, and the Church challenges society’s acceptance of such behavior as a normal lifestyle. Moreover, the Church has become more active in encouraging members to support legislative measures that promote traditional family values and gender roles. For example, Church members in California were very active in the 1999 campaign to pass Proposition 22, or the Knight Initiative, which made heterosexual marriage the only type of marriage recognized in California. As long as those who engaged in homosexual practices remained in the “closet” no need existed to publicly condemn homosexual conduct. However, now that some in the world have lobbied the public to view homosexual conduct as acceptable or normal, The Church of Jesus Christ has responded by reiterating its position in clear terms: homosexual conduct in any form is sinful and those involved in homosexual relationships should discontinue homosexual behavior and focus on diminishing their homosexual attraction.
Biblical Response to Homosexual Relations
The most well-known Biblical story relating to homosexual conduct comes near the opening of the Bible, in the account of Sodom and Gomorrah:
4. But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter:
5. And they called unto Lot, and said unto him. Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.
6. And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,
7. And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. (Genesis 19:4-7, KJV)
Here, the men of Sodom wish to know, or engage in sexual activity with, the men in Lot’s house. Lot, however, shuts the door to them, and denounces them for doing wickedly. Because of homosexual acts (and other forms of wickedness), God destroyed the city (verses24-25). This passage of scripture can be reasonably interpreted as an unequivocal denouncement of homosexual conduct that is echoed in many other places throughout the Bible.10 It is important to note here that the Joseph Smith Translation differs from the King James Version regarding Lot and his daughters. In Genesis 19:9, the King James Version reads, “Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes; only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.” The Joseph Smith Translation reads quite differently, “And Lot said, Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me I pray you, plead with my brethren that I may not bring them out unto you; and ye shall not do unto them as seemeth good in your eyes.” Some employ the King James Version to discount the entire story. The Joseph Smith Translation adds clarity and credibility.
As part of the canonized literature for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Bible’s pronouncement on homosexual relations is often referenced by Church leaders and is consistent with the Church’s position today. For example, the Lord revealed the following to Moses: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination” (Leviticus 18:22, KJV). A footnote clarification reads: “OR With the male you shall not lie as one lies with the woman.” In Leviticus, homosexual acts are labeled not only wicked, as in Genesis, but as an abomination, a sin that is immoral and loathed by God.
This moral indignation at homosexual acts has logical justification. Two men or two women engaged in sexual activity have no capacity to procreate, one of the fundamental injunctions of the Bible. Marriage is highly esteemed in Christianity. Homosexual marriage is not recognized in the Bible nor is a homosexual union compatible with Christian doctrine.
Frequently in the Bible, homosexual practices are grouped with other moral sins.
27. And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.
29. Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
30. Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
31. Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
32. Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Romans 1:27, 29-31, 32, KJV)
Here, men “lust one toward another,” and this lust is then related to some of the most heinous sins described in the Bible. The Apostle Paul ties homosexual behavior to the moral failure of a society. Particularly interesting is the emphasis on natural and unnatural. Twice, this adjective is used to rebuke homosexual conduct: men leave the “natural use of the woman,” and are without “natural affections.” The Biblical viewpoint that homosexual relations are unnatural and thus unhealthy relates quite closely to the more modern nature/nurture debate about homosexual orientation. As discussed later in this book, some psychiatrists and physicians argue today that homosexual attraction/conduct is natural because it is genetically determined or genetically influenced. But the Bible and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ consistently teach that homosexual conduct is unnatural.
The last phrase of the above passage (verse 32) is also interesting. Those engaging in these activities (not just homosexual behavior, but all of the sins listed) “have pleasure in them that do them.” As in other discussions of iniquity of civilizations (as opposed to individuals), it emphasizes that the sins are widely accepted and not recognized as wrong. Modern-day apostles of the Church reaffirm that what is wrong remains wrong despite the acceptance and pleasure of society in committing that particular sin. In a General Conference address President Spencer W. Kimball states:
“But let us emphasize that right and wrong, righteousness and sin, are not dependent upon man’s interpretations, conventions and attitudes. Social acceptance does not change the status of an act, making wrong into right. If all the people in the world were to accept homosexuality…the practice would still be a deep dark sin.11
And on another occasion, President Kimball declared:
Society as it degenerates might skid down the hill toward acceptance of (homosexual relations), but the Lord and his true Church will never condone these sexual sins. God is the same yesterday, today and forever.12
The statements given by modern Church leaders mirror the Biblical roots of homosexual conduct’s place as a sin.
The Degree of Sin That Homosexual Behavior Represents
How serious a sin is homosexual behavior? We have already discussed the Biblical classifications of “wickedness” and then “abomination,” but exploring the level on which it relates to other sins is instructive because the seriousness of the sin is a significant factor in determining the Church’s response.
The warnings from Church leaders are not few.
President Spencer W. Kimball:
Homosexual conduct is serious sin. … The Lord condemns and forbids this practice with a vigor equal to his condemnation of adultery and other such sex acts. And the Church will excommunicate as readily any unrepentant addict.13
Next to the crime of murder comes the sin of sexual impurity as expressed in its many manifestations: adultery, fornication, homosexuality and related transgressions.14
Let it therefore be clearly stated that the seriousness of the sin of homosexuality is equal to or greater than that of fornication or adultery; and that the Lord’s Church will as readily take action to disfellowship or excommunicate the unrepentant practicing homosexual as it will the unrepentant fornicator or adulterer.15
Statement of The First Presidency (November 1991):
Sexual relations are proper only between husband and wife appropriately expressed within the bonds of marriage. Any other sexual contact, including fornication, adultery, and homosexual and lesbian behavior is sinful. Those who persist in such practices or who influence others to do so are subject to church discipline.16
Elder Boyd K Packer:
It was intended that we use this power only with our partner in marriage. I repeat, very plainly, physical mischief with another man is forbidden. It is forbidden by the Lord.17
President Joseph F. Smith:
Sexual union is lawful in wedlock, and if participated in with right intent is honorable and sanctifying. But without the bonds of marriage, sexual indulgence is a debasing sin, abominable in the sight of Deity.18
Elder Dallin H Oaks:
[Speaking of homosexual conduct]: Persons cannot continue to engage in serious sin and remain members of the Church. And discipline can be given for encouraging sin by others. There is no Church discipline for improper thoughts or feelings…but there are consequences for behavior… Consequently, if transgressors do not respond to calls to repentance, the shepherds of the Church flock must take disciplinary action in fulfillment of their God-given responsibilities.19
President Gordon B. Hinckley:
If [referring to those with homosexual struggles] they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church. If they violate the law of chastity and the moral standards of the Church, then they are subject to the discipline of the Church, just as others are.20
Homosexual behavior is a serious sin on two levels: first, as the perversion of nature described in the Bible, and second, as sexual relations outside of marriage, forbidden in any exchange-be it homosexual or heterosexual. Furthermore, Church members who do not repent and persist in homosexual activities are excommunicated, as evidenced in the remarks of Elder Dallin H. Oaks and President Spencer W. Kimball. President Kimball also indicates that homosexual sin (and sexual sin in general) is second only to murder in its seriousness, and suggests that homosexual sin is “equal to or greater than that of fornication or adultery,” implying that it may be the more serious sexual sin.
Vital to any discussion of moral behavior, however, is the distinction between thoughts and actions. A letter issued by The First Presidency reads:
There is a distinction between immoral thoughts and feelings and participating in either immoral heterosexual or any homosexual behavior. However, such thoughts and feelings, regardless of their causes, can and should be overcome and sinful behavior should be eliminated.21
Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems contains the following:
A person may be troubled by homosexual thoughts and feelings even though there has been no homosexual behavior or such behavior has been eliminated. These thoughts and feelings need to be overcome. Members of the Church are commanded to control their sexual thoughts and desires.22
Having therefore, homosexual thoughts is not the equivalent of engaging in homosexual activity, and in most of its statements about homosexual relations and immorality in general the Church distinguishes between thought and action. Moreover, Elder Oaks writes: “we should distinguish between (1) homosexual (or lesbian) `thoughts and feelings’ (which should be resisted and redirected), and (2) ‘homosexual behavior’ (which is a serious sin).”23 Always linked to the thought/action distinction is a second warning: thoughts “can and should be overcome,” and that thoughts generally lead to behavior. Homosexual contact, then, is the paramount sin of homosexuality. And homosexual thought, though not equally damning, is very dangerous.
“My Genes Made Me Do It”: Homosexual Orientation and Science
The Church refutes the idea that homosexual orientation is genetically determined. The following synopses of three studies on whether genes determine homosexual orientation illustrate the status of this theory in the scientific community. Furthermore, a genetic/biological cause of homosexual attraction has not found support in the scientific literature.
Simon LeVay: Homosexuality and the Brain24
The LeVay study, conducted by Simon LeVay of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, located in San Diego, reported “subtle but significant differences” between the brains of homosexual men and heterosexual men. LeVay studied the area of the brain known as the hypothalamus, focusing on a cluster of cells called the INAH3. Other research has found that, consistent with the proposition that men’s brains are generally larger than women’s brains, this cluster of cells in the hypothalamus is also larger in men than in women.25 LeVay found that in homosexual men, this cluster of cells was smaller than in heterosexual men.
LeVay’s study, however, was flawed in many ways. He used a small sample size-just 16 supposedly heterosexual men and 19 homosexual men. Since the men were dead, it was impossible to confirm the heterosexuality of the heterosexual group, or anything else about their sexual lifestyles. In his book, Queer Science, LeVay himself enumerates some of the difficulties with his research. These limitations include the following (as quoted from his book):
- [T]he observations were made on adults who had already been sexually active for a number of years.
- Another limitation arises because most of the gay men whose brains I studied died of complications of AIDS.
LeVay indicates why these are limitations to proving a genetic link to sexual orientation and the following are his suggestions for overcoming these limitations (coordinated numerically with the above limitations):
- To make a really compelling case, one would have to show that these neuroanatomical differences existed early in life-preferably at birth. Without such data, there is always at least the theoretical possibility that the structural differences are actually the result of differences in sexual behavior perhaps on the “use it or lose it” principle. Furthermore, even if the differences in the hypothalamus arise before birth, they might still come about from a variety of causes, including genetic differences, differences in stress exposure, and many others. It is possible that the development of INAH3 (and perhaps other brain regions) represents a “final common path” in the determination of sexual orientation, a path to which innumerable prior factors may contribute.
- Although I am confident that the small size of INAH3 in these men was not an effect of the disease, there is always the possibility that gay men who died of AIDS are not representative of the entire population of gay men. For example, they might have a stronger preference for receptive anal intercourse, the major risk fact for acquiring HIV infection. Thus, if one wished, one could make the argument that structural differences in INAH3 relate more to actual behavior patterns of copulation than to sexual orientation as such. It will not be possible to settle this issue definitively until some method becomes available to measure the size of INAH3 in living people who can be interviewed in detail about their sexuality.26
Ultimately, LeVay’s study does little to prove a genetic link to sexual orientation. His remarks, however, do support a behavioral explanation. Professor Marc Breedlove27 concluded that the brain, as a non-static organ, changes and adjusts with human behavior, specifically sexual behavior. When someone does a particular act repeatedly, the neural pathways in the brain are strengthened. Thus, a basketball player and a rocket scientist will have different brain architecture because of the modeling that occurs within the brain in consequence to their particular occupations. Likewise, homosexual behavior may cause a different brain structure than heterosexual behavior.28
Bailey and Pillard: Twin studies29
The next study was performed by Bailey and Pillard. They focused on homosexuality in identical twins, non-identical twins, and regular siblings. They studied the occurrence of homosexuality in one twin and then correlated it with whether or not the other twin also identified himself as homosexual. Of the 56 sets of identical twins, they found a 52 percent concordance rate, or that a homosexual twin’s brother has a 52 percent chance of being homosexual. For non-identical twins, they found a concordance rate of 22 percent, which fell to 9.2 concordance rate for non-twin brothers.
This study breaks down for several reasons.30 To mention a few:
- Genetic theories predict a similar amount of homosexual concordance between non-identical twins and regular siblings (unless a placental or maternal influence is a factor).
- The study rests on the untenable assumption that the social environment is the same for identical and non-identical twins.
- Since all of the sets of twins had been raised together and were presumably subject to most, if not all, of the same environmental effects, concordance should have been higher.
One interesting question arises from this study. If homosexuality is in the genetic code, why did not all of the identical twins become homosexual, since by definition they have the same genetic code? In effect, this data actually supports an argument for environmental factors.31
The Gay Gene: Dean Hamer32
Perhaps the most sensationalized of the three studies was the one directed by Dean Hamer. At the time of his study, Hamer was a researcher at the National Cancer Institute. His group focused on a small area of the X chromosome. Out of 44 pairs of homosexual brothers, 33 (or 83 percent) received the same sequence of the X chromosome. This, claimed Hamer, meant that instead of 50 percent (the chance that a brother would have the same sequence of X chromosome as another brother), the natural probability increased by 33 percent. This implies a relationship between X chromosome sequence and homosexuality. This resulted in a loudly pronounced discovery of the so-called “gay gene.” His study, suggesting a genetic factor in homosexuality, was widely misinterpreted to conclude that homosexuality was inherited.
Hamer’s study also fails to hold up under scientific scrutiny. George Risch, (the developer of the analytical method used in Hamer’s study) from the Yale University School of Medicine had this to say: “Hamer, et al. suggest that their results are consistent with X-linkage because maternal uncles have a higher rate of homosexual orientation than paternal uncles, and cousins related through a maternal aunt have a higher rate than other types of cousins. However, neither of these results is statistically significant.”
Risch further mentioned that the results could be more apparent than real, “[t]he small sample sizes make these data compatible with a range of possible genetic and environmental hypotheses,” and because “so few homosexual men tend to have children, a study of male homosexual orientation will reveal few opportunities for male to male transmission, giving the appearance of an X-linkage.”33
A careful reading of Hamer’s comments about his own study is revealing. He states in his book The Science of Desire, “[t]he pedigree study failed to produce what we originally hoped to find: simple Mendelian inheritance. In fact, we never found a single family in which homosexuality was distributed in the obvious pattern that Mendel observed in his pea plants.”34
Prominent research teams Byne and Parsons, and also Friedman and Downey, each concluded that there was no evidence to support a biologic theory of homosexuality. is not simply a biological phenomenon but rather results from an interaction among biologic, psychological, and socio-cultural factors.35
In a similar vein, Friedman and Downey found the evidence lacking for a biological model of homosexuality. Both research teams agreed that homosexuality could be best explained by an alternative model where “temperamental and personality traits interact with the familial and social milieu as the individual’s sexuality emerges.”36
Science has never proved a genetic link to sexual orientation. Moreover, the Church repeatedly, in nearly every statement about homosexual relations, teaches that homosexual attraction is not inherent to a person’s particular genetic make-up and that they are quite able to change. The following excerpts are a sampling of a large collection of such statements.
From Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems:
Although some struggle with unwanted homosexual thoughts and feelings, there is no conclusive evidence that anyone is born with a homosexual orientation. Many people face difficult challenges. Whatever the causes of problems, each person is ultimately responsible for how he or she deals with life’s challenges.37
From The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball:
Homosexual tendencies can be controlled. “God made me that way,” some say, as they rationalize and excuse themselves for their perversions. “I can’t help it,” they add. This is blasphemy. Is man not made in the image of God and does he think God to be “that way”? Man is responsible for his own sins. … Temptations come to all people. The difference between the reprobate and the worthy person is generally that one yielded and the other resisted.38
From “Same-Gender Attraction,” a talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
We are, of course, aware of evidence that inheritance explains susceptibilities to certain diseases like some cancers and some other illnesses like diabetes mellitus. There are also theories and some evidence that inheritance is a factor in susceptibilities to various behavior-related disorders like aggression, alcoholism, and obesity. It is easy to hypothesize that inheritance plays a role in sexual orientation. However it is important to remember, as conceded by two advocates of this approach, that “the concept of substantial heritability should not be confused with the concept of inevitable heritability. … Most mechanisms probably involve interactions between constitutional predispositions and environmental events.”39
From “To the One,” by Elder Boyd K. Packer:
It is not unchangeable. It is not locked in. One does not just have to yield to it and live with it. Test it against moral law and you learn something very quickly. If a condition that draws both men and women into one of the ugliest and most debased of all physical performances is set and cannot be overcome, it would be a glaring exception to all moral law. … Such a thing is totally inconsistent.40
From A Letter to a Friend, by President Spencer W. Kimball:
Satan tells his victims that it is a natural way of life; that is normal and that they cannot change. This is a base lie. All normal people have sex urges and if they control such urges they become strong and masterful. If they yield to their carnal desires and urges, they get weaker until their sins get beyond control.41
From “What People Are Asking About Us,” President Gordon B. Hinckley:
People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves so-called gays and lesbians. My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God. They may have certain inclinations which are powerful and which may be difficult to control. Most people have inclinations of one kind or another at various times. If they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church.42
The remarks of Elder Dallin H. Oaks in particular illustrate an interesting point-that the Church recognizes the advances of science but does not take them to be conclusive evidence of genetically determined homosexual orientation. Furthermore, any evidence of a “gay gene” would not change the doctrine of personal choice and accountability. That is, even if homosexual orientation were “scientifically proven” to have a biological factor (which it has not been), it would still simply be a weakness that the afflicted individuals were expected to deal with, not succumb to. Elder Oaks compares this to Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”:
One person may have feelings that draw him toward gambling…another person may have a taste for tobacco and a susceptibility to its addiction. … In each case(and in other examples that could be given) the feelings or other characteristics that increase susceptibility to certain behavior may have some relationship to its inheritance. But the relationship is probably very complex. … Most of us are born with[or develop] thorns in the flesh, some more visible, some more serious than others. … Once we have reached the age or condition of accountability, the claim “I was born that way” does not excuse actions or thoughts that fail to conform to the commandments of God.43
A genetic factor in homosexuality would be unfortunate, but not absolving.
Homosexual Is an Adjective, Not a Noun
In an address entitled, “To the One,” Elder Boyd K. Packer manages to discuss homosexual conduct for more than twenty pages, using the actual word only once. He begins:
To introduce [the subject], I must use a word. I will use it one time only. Please notice that I use it as an adjective, not as a noun; I reject it as a noun. I speak to those few, those very few, who may be subject to homosexual temptation. I repeat, I accept that word as an adjective to describe a temporary condition. I reject it as a noun naming a permanent one.44
In light of this principle, a pamphlet issued to Church leaders with guidelines on how to deal with homosexual conduct suggests that leaders “be careful not to label the person as ‘homosexual’ or ‘gay’. It is more appropriate to speak of homosexual thoughts, feelings and behavior.”45
Indeed, in the contents and the very name of the pamphlet Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems: Suggestions for Ecclesiastical Leader, the word “homosexual” is used exclusively as an adjective.
This trend is found also in numerous talks, essays, and articles by Church authorities; they speak of “homosexual tendencies,” “homosexual behavior,” and “homosexual problems,” but rarely of homosexuals. Elder Dallin H. Oaks remarks:
We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. 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.46
Elder Oaks delineates between adjective and noun, and he teaches that the doctrines of the Church forbid the use of these words as nouns. Using this guide, the phrase “he is a homosexual ” is transformed to “he has homosexual inclination or feelings.” The word does not define; it describes a propensity or behavior of a person. Use of the word “gay” is also rare in Church statements, and is often tied to statements about politics and sociology.
The insistence that “homosexual” is not a noun strongly supports the conviction that individuals with homosexual tendencies can change. The Solutions for Ecclesiastical Leaders pamphlet also notes that” such labels can undermine the person’s belief that change is possible and may communicate the mistaken notion that a man or woman is born with a homosexual identity that cannot be changed.”47 The Church feels that reference to “gays” or “lesbians” as such gives support to a false or unproven idea that some people are genetically determined to behave in a homosexual manner. Moreover, the conversion of the word to a descriptive instead of a prescriptive state helps people who have homosexual feelings understand the possibility for changes in their lives as can others with similar struggles.
As the terminology used in contemporary political and social discourse relating to homosexual orientation has evolved, the Church and groups advocating change of homosexual attraction have communicated their belief by using words that describe their view. The terms “same-sex attraction” and “same-gender attraction” are used in reference to homosexuality by the Church.48
These terms clarify the Church’s position that genes do not decide whether a person will act on homosexual tendencies. The behavior is separate from a person’s feelings and inclinations. In the Church’s view appropriate sexual behavior is heterosexual in the context of a lawful marriage between a man and a woman, and that those who have self-identified as “lesbian” or “gay” are really people dealing with same-sex attraction. Although the Church acknowledges the temptation of homosexual conduct, it refutes “homosexuality” as an acceptable way for an individual to express sexual desire.
A Church of Compassion
Church leaders have consistently shown compassion and hope for those involved in homosexual behavior. While condemning homosexual conduct vigorously, they have also acknowledged that homosexual attraction is a temptation for some people. Clear warnings are accompanied by empathic assistance in much of the Church literature. Although President Spencer W. Kimball’s statements (for example) regarding indulgence in homosexual conduct were straight forward, he still offered compassion and hope to those who struggle. “This is a most unpleasant subject to dwell on “he says, and later, “even though I dislike such a subject, I believe it necessary to warn the youth against the onslaught of the arch tempter.” But following the warning, he stated, “for those of you who have erred, the Lord and His Church can forgive. The image of a loving, forgiving God comes through clearly to those who read and understand the scriptures. Since He is our Father, He naturally desires to raise us up.”49 President Kimball then outlines the steps of repentance for those who desire to change.
Recent statements on homosexual conduct have recognized both the difficulty of turning away from the temptation and the possibility of change. “When members come to you for help, counsels Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems: Suggestions for Ecclesiastical Leaders, “they may feel guilty and in despair, having been unable to change their lives. You can instill hope in them. Help them to know that you and their Heavenly Father love them and that they can be healed from their afflictions through the atonement of the Savior.”50And Elder Dallin H. Oaks writes in his Ensign article regarding same-gender attraction: “Kindness, compassion, and love are powerful instruments in strengthening us to carry heavy burdens imposed without any fault of our own and to do what we know to be right.”51 President Hinckley also spoke concerning the Church’s attitude. After affirming that”[the Church] love[s] them as sons and daughters of God,” President Gordon B. Hinckley expressed his desires for those who struggle with homosexual attraction, “We want to help these people, to strengthen them, to assist them with their problems and to help them with their difficulties.”52
Important to note, then, is that the Church does not revile those who feel susceptible to homosexual urges; the Church reviles homosexual conduct. And while it may excommunicate unrepentant sinners (of any serious sin), the Church recognizes the struggle that homosexual attraction represents for those who deal with it.
Homosexual Relations and Marriage
Recent judicial and legislative action in some states has legitimized same-sex relationships, and a few churches are performing “homosexual marriages” (and admitting individuals who engage in homosexual practices into the clergy). Current examples include Hawaii, where the state’s highest court gave domestic partnerships similar rights to heterosexual marriages, and Vermont, where the state supreme court ruled and the legislature voted in favor of same-sex unions.53
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been criticized for refusing to recognize homosexual marriage. This refusal reflects scriptural doctrine that the pathway to highest exaltation is only accessible through marriage between a man and a woman and obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who engage in homosexual behavior not only disqualify themselves by not choosing a member of the opposite sex but also by violating the law of chastity through extramarital sexual relations. Same-gender marriage is as incongruous as heterosexual cohabitation with the revealed doctrine and standards of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Church leaders are adamant that “any alternatives to the legal and loving marriage between a man and a woman are helping to unravel the fabric of society” and that “a bona fide marriage is one between a man and a woman solemnized by the proper legal or ecclesiastical authority.”54 Elder Dallin H. Oaks reiterates the necessity of marriage for exaltation: “Our eternal destiny-exaltation in the celestial kingdom-is made possible only through the atonement of Jesus Christ…and is only available to a man and a woman who have entered into and been faithful to the covenants of an eternal marriage I a temple of God.”55 In 1994 The First Presidency issued a statement specifically on this topic:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints oppose[s] any efforts to give legal authorization to marriages between persons of the same gender. Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God to fulfill the eternal destiny of His children.
We encourage members to appeal to legislators, judges, and other government officials to preserve the purposes add sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, and to reject all efforts to give legal authorization or other official approval or support to marriages between persons of the same gender.56
Although the Church has a very clear policy against identifying with political groups, it finds the issue of homosexual marriage important enough to take the unusual action of urging Church members to take political action. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ in California were strongly encouraged by Church authorities to contribute what ever they could with respect to time and resources to pass Proposition 22, or the Knight Initiative, which made marriage between a man and a woman the only type of legal marriage.57 Also, the Church joined an Amicus Curae Brief to the Supreme Court in the case of James Dale and the Boy Scouts of America.58 That brief argued for the traditional family values taught to the Boy Scouts if it was forced to accept those who engaged in homosexual practices as scout leaders.
The summary statement created and endorsed by the Church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “A Proclamation to the World,” contains the following:
We, the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony.59
Although the statement does not directly address homosexual relations, its explicit definition of marriage, repeated twice, is that it must be between “man and woman.” This distinction implicitly delineates between homosexual and heterosexual matrimony. Moreover, the opposition of the Church to homosexual marriage is strongly tied to its concern for the decaying moral fabric of society. Indeed, according to President Gordon B. Hinckley’s address to the General Priesthood in 1999:
[the Church] deals[s] only with those legislative matters which are of a strictly moral nature or which directly affect the welfare of the Church. … We regard it as not only our right but our duty to oppose those forces which we feel undermine the moral fiber of society.
Some portray legalization of so-called same-sex marriage as a civil right. This is not a matter of civil rights; it is a matter of morality. Others question our constitutional right as a church to raise our voice on an issue that is of critical importance to the future of the family. We believe that defending this sacred institution by working to preserve traditional marriage lies clearly within our religious and constitutional prerogatives. Indeed, we are compelled by our doctrine to speak out.60
As indicated previously, the roots of the Church’s opposition to same-gender marriage can be traced Biblically as far back as the creation of Adam and Eve. Jewish scholar Dennis Prager writes of the account in Genesis: “God’s first declaration about man…is, ‘It is not good for man to be alone.’ … Man’s solitude was not a function of his not being with other people; it was a function of his not being with a woman.”61 Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ share Prager’s sentiment: “But even if 99 percent of all marriages failed, the principle is still right, for a Paul said, ‘Neither is the man without the woman neither the woman without the man, in the Lord’ (1 Cor. 11:11).62 By this reasoning, homosexual relations are wrong because they deny the God-appointed companionship of man and woman.
The inability and devaluation of procreation is also grounds for which the Church disapproves of homosexual practices. President Spencer W. Kimball writes:
From the beginning, the Lord has commanded mankind to multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it. And from that day until now, the prophets have denounced and condemned any of the unnatural and improper practices that make multiplying impossible and kill that which is the basis of true civilization-the home and family.63
The family unit as established by God and scripture is biologically impossible to create in a homosexual relationship, so the Church’s strong defense of marriage and family is a defense against homosexual relations. All acceptable romantic relationships in the Christian tradition have been between people who have the potential to procreate, and these relationships have been sanctified. While serving as president of Brigham Young University Jeffrey R. Holland taught, “Sexual union is…a very real sacrament of the highest order, a union not only of a man and a woman but very much the union of that man and woman with God.”64
Elder Boyd K. Packer expounded on this relationship, “[w]hen man has found his wife and companion, he has in a sense found the other half of himself. He will return to her again and again for that regeneration that exalts his manhood and strengthens him for the testing his life will give him.”65 President Spence W. Kimball explained the purposes of these intimate relations, “Sex is for procreation and expression of love. It is the destiny of men and women to join together to make eternal family units.”66 Appropriate heterosexual activity is physically, emotionally, and spiritually rejuvenating. Homosexual conduct distorts these purposes and is decadent and hedonistic in the eyes of the Church. In a Priesthood Commemoration Fireside, Elder Packer stated:
Never can two of the same gender fulfill the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth. No two men or any number added to them, no matter how much priesthood they may think they possess can do it. Only a woman can bestow upon man that supernal title of father.67
Here, we see the necessity of gender roles in procreation and God’s command to multiply and replenish. Implicit to this teaching is the inability of those in homosexual partnerships to fulfill that commandment.
Homosexual marriage, then, is rejected by the Church as a legitimate institution because it violates the principles of chastity and procreation, two principles central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Homosexual Attraction and Gender
Statements about homosexual attraction from Church leaders often refer to the importance of gender as a God-given characteristic. Elder Dallin H. Oaks writes: “God created us ‘male and female.’ What we call gender was an essential characteristic of our existence prior to our birth.”68 According to President James E. Faust, “Our designation as men or women began before this world was.”69 Both of these statements come in articles directly concerned with homosexual relations. Male and female are not simply physical designations, but spiritual designations, and these spiritual designations, in turn, lead to certain roles and patterns of behavior. And one of these patterns of behavior is attraction to the opposite gender. (Other roles include, for example, that “fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.”70 This is another spiritual designation of gender roles.)
Homosexual conduct, then, alters traditional gender roles, which not only upsets a social norm, but a spiritual norm as well. The Pearl of Great Price contains the following: “And I, God created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them.”71 What God created was not just two different sorts of physical characteristics to give to humans, but two different sorts of spiritual characteristics. Thwarting these spiritual characteristics is thwarting God’s design for man,72 and is therefore sinful and unnatural.
Elder Boyd K. Packer writes more concerning what is and what is not natural:
It is normal for a male to want to become more masculine, or for a female to want to become more feminine. But one cannot increase masculinity or femininity by deviant physical contact with one of his own gender. There are many variations of this disorder, some of them very difficult to identify and all of them difficult to understand. When one projects himself in some confused role-playing way with those of the same gender in an effort to become more masculine or more feminine, something flips over and precisely the opposite results. In a strange way this amounts to trying to love yourself.73
Not only is the characteristic of gender a spiritual disposition, but it is one that we are required and expected to develop. One of the spiritual side effects of homosexual conduct is that gender becomes confused, and self-absorption follows. Elder Packer clarifies this reference to self-absorption/preoccupation in the following quotation:
Have you explored the possibility that the cause, when found, will turn out to be a very typical form of selfishness? … If one could even experiment with the possibility that selfishness of a very subtle nature may be the cause of this disorder, that quickly clarifies many things. It opens the possibility of putting some very sick things in order. … Consider this: One cannot procreate alone. And this: One cannot procreate with his own gender. These are absolutes. And there is a third: One cannot procreate without yielding or giving. … I repeat, we have had very little success in trying to remedy perversion by treating perversion. It is very possible to cure it by treating selfishness.74
According to Elder Packer, selfishness explains homosexual acts because their sole purpose is self-gratification; these acts cannot procreate and require no giving or sacrifice for others. The individual who engages in homosexual behavior follows a sort of self-indulgent, hedonistic path that begins with the unresisted urge to satisfy self.
Homosexual Orientation and Change
If it is possible to change sexual orientation, and if it is not something that is simply inborn genetically determined, the Church must answer the question: how does one change sexual orientation? The answer is not a simple one, but Church leaders have provided much counsel for those who struggle with homosexual attraction. Elder Boyd K. Packer gives the following:
I hope I will not disappoint you too much if I say at once that I do not know of any quick spiritual cure-all. Setting aside miracles for the moment, in which I firmly believe, generally I do not know of some spiritual shock treatment that will sear the soul of an individual and instantly kill this kind of temptation-or any other kind, for that matter.75
The literature on change is plentiful and can be generally divided into two categories: psychological and spiritual. Homosexual conduct is viewed by the Church as a spiritual sin “and, where necessary[,] professional assistance” may be helpful in overcoming it.76 Hence, statements on curing or changing homosexual attraction often fall under these two categories.
Psychological Therapy and Homosexuality
If homosexual attraction is not biologically determined, can heterosexual potential be developed and homosexual feelings be diminished? Some claim that an individual with homosexual attraction cannot change, and even if the person attempts to change he or she will ultimately fail. Some even go so far as to say that not one person has or can change from a homosexual orientation t a heterosexual orientation. In fact some argue that any attempt to provide therapy for a person with homosexual attraction is fundamentally wrong, and there have been unsuccessful efforts to lobby the national mental health organizations to make it unethical to provide therapy for those who want to change his or her orientation or behavior.
The whole area of gender affirmative therapy aimed at helping individuals who are unhappy with their unwanted homosexual attractions is controversial. Some politically motivated groups feel that if individuals can change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual, then “homosexual” would be considered a lifestyle choice and not a protected class under the law., If someone can change his or her sexual orientation, then there is more of a choice as to sexual orientation. Moral, and eventually legal, judgments can be placed on choice involving behaviors that are judged morally unacceptable. Because some activists do not wish this, they claim that therapy is not effective. In fact the activist researcher LeVay makes an interesting observation about the emphasis on the biology of homosexuality. He noted, “people who think that gays and lesbians are born that way are also more likely to support gay rights.”77
What is gender affirmative therapy? It is the process of helping individuals understand their gender development and make choices in accordance with their value systems. Gender affirmative therapy works with individuals who are not comfortable with their homosexual feelings and wish to make changes in their lives.
The basic premise of gender affirmative therapy is that social and emotional variables affect gender identity which, in turn, determines sexual orientation. The focus of therapy is to help individuals fully develop their masculine or feminine gender identity.
How effective is gender affirmative therapy? In reviewing the research, Satinover reported a 52 percent success rate in the treatment of unwanted homosexual attraction.78
Masters and Johnson, the famed sex researchers, reported a 65 percent success rate after a five year follow-up.79 Elizabeth James conducted an analysis of over 100 outcome studies and concluded that when all of the research was combined that approximately 35 percent of those with homosexual attraction “recovered” with an additional 27 percent “improved”. She concluded that “significant improvement and even completer recovery (from a homosexual orientation) are entirely possible.80 A published study co-authored by the current writer revealed some interesting data: prior to therapy, 68 percent of the participants perceived themselves as either exclusively or entirely homosexual, and another 22 percent stated that they were more homosexual than heterosexual. After therapy, only 13 percent perceived themselves as exclusively or entirely homosexual while 33 percent described themselves as exclusively or entirely heterosexual.81 Ninety-nine percent of the respondents said they now believe that therapy to change homosexual attraction can be effective and valuable. Other researchers report success rates varying from 30 percent to 70 percent.
Perhaps the most significant study to date was that recently reported by Dr. Robert L. Spitzer at the American Psychiatric Association. Dr. Spitzer is a self identified secular humanist, atheist Jew. Spitzer was the psychiatrist who led the effort to remove homosexuality from the list of psychiatric disorders in 1973. In his recent research, Spitzer studied 200 men and women who had participated in gender affirmative therapy. He concluded that 66 percent of the men and 44 percent of the women had arrived at what he called food heterosexual functioning. In addition, 89 percent of the men and 95 percent of the women said they were bothered slightly, or not at all, by unwanted homosexual feelings.82 ”Like most psychiatrists,” says Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, “I thought that homosexual behavior could be resisted, but sexual orientation could not be changed. I now believe that’s untrue-some people can and do change.”83 In the sample that he studied, Spitzer concluded that “many made substantial changes in sexual arousal and fantasy-not merely behavior. Even subjects who made less substantial change believed it to be extremely beneficial.”84 Most revealing was Spitzer’s response when he was asked by a journalist, “What would you do if your adolescent boy tells you he is homosexual? Dr. Spitzer responded, “The honest answer would be, I guess, I would hope that they (he) would be interested in changing. And if they would be, that they would get some help.”85
Perhaps no one explains the change process better than the lesbian activist Camille Paglia. She writes,
Homosexuality is not “normal.” On the contrary it is a challenge to the norm. … Nature exists whether academics like it or not. And in nature, procreation is the single relentless rule. That is the norm. Our sexual bodies were designed for reproduction. … No one is born gay. The idea is ridiculous…homosexuality is an adaption, not an inborn trait. Is the gay identity so fragile that it cannot bear the thought that some people may not wish to be gay? Sexuality is highly fluid, and reversals are theoretically possible. However, habit is refractory, once the sensory pathways have been blazed and deepened by repetition-a phenomenon obvious in the struggle with obesity, smoking, alcoholism or drug addiction…helping gays to learn how to function heterosexually, if they wish, is a perfectly worthy aim. We should be honest enough to consider whether homosexuality may not indeed be a pausing at the prepubescent stage where children anxiously band together by gender…current gay cant insists that homosexuality is “not a choice,” that no one would choose to be gay in a homophobic society. But there is an element of choice in all behavior, sexual or otherwise. It takes an effort to deal with the opposite sex; it is safer with our own kind. The issue is one of challenge versus comfort.86
Advice for spiritual rehabilitation follows the pattern of advice that could be given to virtually any person struggling with any moral sin in the Church. Like any other sin or weakness, overcoming homosexual attraction may involve a long struggle, buy the Church offers those who try the spiritual support of its leaders and members. Additionally, Elder Packer advises: “Establish a resolute conviction that you will resist for a lifetime, if necessary, any deviant thought or deviant action. Do not respond to those thoughts; repress them.”87
Personal responsibility and accountability are also repeatedly taught by Church leaders. According to President Spencer W. Kimball, “Man can grow up and become mature and with the Lord’s help, be the master of his fate and the captain of his soul.”88
Understanding and Helping Those with Homosexual Problems contains the following advice to leaders who are counseling those overcoming homosexual attraction.
In most cases, these members need a better understanding of faith in Jesus Christ, the process of repentance, and the purpose of life on this earth. They need to understand the importance of praying, fasting, searching the scriptures, honoring their covenants, and obeying all of the commandments of God.89
Much of the advice regarding homosexual conduct could be applied to most sins.
However, advice dealing with the practical problem of overcoming homosexual attraction tends to be more specific. Later, the Church’s pamphlet advises:
A man or woman who has a healthy life-style will more likely have the energy and self-discipline needed to change. If the person does not already have a program of regular self-improvement including exercise, a healthy diet, and setting and achieving goals, encourage him or her to establish such a program.90
Other advice includes:
- Avoiding pornography and masturbation. “Pornography and masturbation almost always accompany homosexual transgressions. These deviant practices must be overcome before homosexual problems can be resolved.”91
- Staying away from those who live in homosexual lifestyles. “Many people try to repent while clinging to unhealthy relationships with others who have similar problems. Members who are repenting must free themselves from these relationships.”92
- Seeking professional help. “Members often need professional help from qualified therapists who understand and honor gospel principles.”93
- Unselfishness. As discussed earlier, Elder Boyd K. Packer suggests that “[I]f unselfishness can cure it-if it has to be applied for a long period of time and thereafter continually-is it not worth it?”94
- Making regular reports of progress. “To have the man return to report success in his efforts or even partial failure is helpful, and to these continuing visits credit may be given for recoveries.”95
Church leaders warn that marriage is not to be used as a way to solve homosexual problems. The Church also acknowledges that “[e]ncouraging members to cultivate heterosexual feelings as a way to resolve homosexual problems generally leads them to frustration and discouragement.”96
An article in the Ensign by the current author outlines suggestions for families who have loved ones struggling with same-sex attraction.97 The article emphasizes that “there is no struggle for which the Atonement of Christ is not sufficient.” Ten ideas are given for helping those who struggle with homosexual struggles:
- Moderate your response to the news of your loved one’s homosexual struggles.
- Express your own feelings and testimony of change.
- 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.
- Kindly encourage the individual to seek counsel from the bishop.
- Avoid the temptation to try to take control of or fix the situation.
- Use professional resources. (Insure that the counseling is consistent with Gospel principles).
- Keep the communication lines open.
- Pray trustingly.
- If your loved one is not already married, do not encourage him or her to marry as a “cure” for homosexuality.
- Never give up on a loved one-never!
Finally, remarks from another Ensign article of anonymous authorship offer additional insight into the process of change;
- Seek advice and help early from your priesthood leaders, especially your bishop.
- If possible and if your bishop agrees, seek professional help through LDS Family Services. … I have participated in many private and group therapy sessions over the years, but nothing has been as effective and long-lasting as working with Church leaders, and exercising my own faith and prayers.
- In addition to professionals and Church leaders, allow appropriate friends and family members to help you. Like all iniquities, same-gender attraction thrives on secrecy; many who struggle with it are paralyzed in their progress by fear that others will find out.
- Develop healthy, appropriate relationships with others of your gender. I have become friends with many of my priesthood leaders and brethren, and I find sports a good way to interact socially with men.98
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints confidently addresses the onslaught of moral decay in today’s world. Its position on homosexual relations is unwavering and it does not make concessions to the media or to public opinion. Church leaders affirm that homosexual relations are sinful and that those who persist in homosexual lifestyles will face unhappiness and Church discipline.
However, the Church is compassionate towards individuals with homosexual tendencies and offers them support and comfort if they wish to change their lives. The Church does not believe that homosexual orientation is biologically determined and unchangeable; although the possibility of a genetic predisposition is acknowledged, it is seen as no more influential than possible genetic predispositions that influence other behaviors. Therefore, individuals with homosexual attraction can make changes in their lives, and are encouraged to do so. As with all serious transgressions, excommunication of an unrepentant person is one course that the Church may follow. Regarding excommunication and Church discipline in general, President Spencer W. Kimball stated that “the Church never mentions punishment and penalties except as a last resort when all appeals and warnings are ignored.”99
The Church’s doctrine and policy, and its history with regard to moral standards demonstrate its commitment to do God’s will as it reaches out with compassion to those who desire help in living these standards.
Perhaps there is no scripture that clarifies this doctrine on homosexual conduct more or provides more hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ than that offered in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor abusers of themselves with mankind…shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (emphasis added).
About the Author
A. Dean Byrd, Ph.D., is a professor and practicing psychologist in Salt Lake City. He is the author of several successful books, including the novel Waking in Winter.
1 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems: Suggestions for Ecclesiastical Leaders. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1992.
2 See Byne, William and Bruce Parsons. “Human Sexual Orientation: The Biologic Theories Reappraised.” Archives of General Psychiatry 50 (March 1993); Hamer, Dean, The Science of Desire(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), p. 273.
3 The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles. “A Proclamation to the World.” Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1995. The proclamation was read by President Gordon B. Hinckley at the General Relief Society Meeting in Salt Lake City held September 23, 1995.
4 Kimball, Spencer W. The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 274.
5 Packer, Boyd K. “To The One.” Address given at a Brigham Young University 12-Stake Fireside. (March 1978): 5-20.
7 Oaks, Dallin H. “Same-Gender Attraction.” The Ensign 25 (October 1995): 7-14.
8 Faust, James E. “Serving the Lord and Resisting the Devil.” The Ensign 25 (September 1995): 2-7.
9 See Hinckley, Gordon B. “What Are People Asking About Us?” The Ensign 28(November 1998): 70-72; Kimball, Spencer W. The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), p. 274; Oaks, Dallin H. “Same-Gender Attraction.” The Ensign 25 (October 1995): 7-14.
10 See Genesis 13:13, 18:20; Leviticus 18:20; Deuteronomy 23:17; Isaiah 3:9; Ezekiel 16-50; Romans 1:27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10.
11 Kimball, Spencer W. “The Foundations of Righteousness.” The Ensign 7 (November 1977): 6-7. (quoting Kimball, Spencer W. The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969). p. 79.)
12 Kimball, Spencer W. A Letter to a Friend (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, original work published in 1971, rev. 1978).
13 Kimball, Spencer W. The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 982), p. 274.
14 Kimball, Spencer W. A Letter to a Friend (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, original work published in 1971, rev. 1978), p. 3.
15 Kimball, Spencer W. The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, original work published in 1969, rev. 1987), pp. 81-82.
16 Letter from The First Presidency, “Standards of Morality and Fidelity.” Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints. November 1991.
17 Packer, Boyd K. “To Young Men Only.” The Ensign 6 (November 1976). An address given at the Priesthood Session of General Conference on October 2, 1976.
18 Smith, Joseph F. Gospel Doctrine (Salt Lake City; Deseret Book, 1939, 5th Ed.), p. 309.
19 Oaks, Dallin H. “Same-Gender Attraction.” The Ensign 25 (October 1995): 7-14.
20 Hinckley, Gordon B. “What Are People Asking About Us? The Ensign 28 (November 1998): 70-72.
21 Letter from The First Presidency. “Standards of Morality and Fidelity.” Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, November 1991.
22 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems: Suggestions for Ecclesiastical Leaders. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1992.
23 Oaks, Dallin H. “Same-Gender Attraction.” The Ensign 25 (October 1995): 7-14.
24 LeVay, Simon. “A Difference in Hypothalamic Structure between Heterosexual and Homosexual Men.” 253 Science 1034, 1991.
25 Byne, William. “Science and Belief: Psychobiological Research on Sexual Orientation.” 30 J. Homosexuality 303, 1995.
26 LeVay, Simon. Queer Science. MIT Press, 1996: 143-45.
27 Breedlove, Marc. “Sex on the Brain.” 389 Nature (23 Oct. 1997): 80, Mark Breedlove is a professor of neuroscience at the University of California at Berkley. He studied the neurological changes in the brains of male rats as they engaged in copulatory behavior. He states:
Copulatory experience can therefore alter the size of neurons. … Whether the sensory experience or motor activity of copulation induced these…changes, interpretations of correlations between human behavior and neural morphology must acknowledge that the two are reciprocally related. It is possible that difference in sexual behavior cause, rather than are caused by, differences in brain structure.
29 Bailey, J. Michael and R. C. Pillard. “A Genetic Study of Male Sexual Orientation.” 48 Archives General Psychiatry 1089, 1991.
30 For an instructive explanation of the many shortcomings of the twin study see Byne, William and Bruce Parsons. “Human Sexual Orientation: The Biologic Theories Reappraised.” Archives of General Psychiatry 50 (March 1993).
31 Id. At 230.
32 Hamer, Dean. “A Linkage between DNA Markers on the X Chromosome and Male Sexual Orientation.” 261 Science 321, 1993.
33 Risch, N., E. Squires-Wheller, and B.J.B. Keen. “Male Sexual Orientation and Genetic Evidence.”262 Nature 2063, 1993.
34 Hamer, Dean. The Science of Desire. Simon & Schuster, 1994:104.
35 Byne, William, and Bruce Parsons. “Human Sexual Orientation: The Biological Theories Reapprised.” Archives of General Psychiatry 50 (March 1993).
36 Friedman, Richard C. and Jennifer Downey. “Neurobiology and Sexual Orientation: Current Relationships.” Journal of Neuropsychiatry 5, 2 (Spring, 1993).
37 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems: Suggestions for Ecclesiastical Leaders. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1992.
38 Kimball, Spencer W. The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), p. 276. (Emphasis added).
39 Oaks, Dallin H. “Same-Gender Attraction.” The Ensign 25 (October 1995): 7. (Referring to R. C. Friedman and J. Downey, “Neurobiology and Sexual Orientation: Current Relationships,”Journal of Neuropsychiatry 5 (48 (1991): 1089-96.)
40 Packer, Boyd K. “To The One.” Address given at a Brigham Young University 12-Stake Fireside. (March 1978): 5-20.
41 Kimball, Spencer W. A Letter to a Friend (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, original work published in 1971, rev. 1978), p. 3. (Emphasis added).
42 Hinckley, Gordon B. “What Are People Asking About Us?” The Ensign 28 (November 1998): 70-72.
43 Oaks, Dallin H. “Same-Gender Attraction.” The Ensign 25 (October 1995): 10.
44 Packer, Boyd K. “To the One.” Address given at a Brigham Young University 12-Stake Fireside. (March 1978): 5-20.
45 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems: Suggestions for Ecclesiastical Leaders. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1992.
46 Oaks, Dallin H. “Same-Gender Attraction.” The Ensign 25 (October 1995): 7-14.
48 See Ibid. for example. Also, Elder Oaks use of quotation marks around the term “gay” demonstrates the hesitancy to adopt terms that reflect a genetically determined attitude towards homosexuality. Support groups for former homosexuals and those desiring to change also use this terminology.
49 Kimball, Spencer W. “Special Message to All Latter-day Saints: President Spencer W. Kimball Speaks Out on Morality.” The Ensign 10 (November 1980): 94.
50 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems: Suggestions for Ecclesiastical Leaders. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1992.
51 Oaks, Dallin H. “Same-Gender Attraction.” The Ensign 25 (October 1995): 9.
52 Hinckley, Gordon B, “What Are People Asking About Us?” The Ensign 28 (November 1998): 70-72.
53 Baker v. Vermont, 744 A.2d 864 (Vt. 1999); See also another action in Hawaii Baehr v. Lewin, 852 P.2d 44 (Haw. 1993).
54 Faust, James E. “Serving the Lord and Resisting the Devil.” The Ensign 25 (September 1995): 5.
55 Oaks, Dallin H. “Same-Gender Attraction.” The Ensign 25 (October 1995): 7.
56 Letter from The First Presidency. “Same Gender Marriages.” Salt Lake City; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, February 1994.
57 The measure passed to become # 308.5 of the California Family Code, which states: “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
58 Amici Curiae Brief in Support of Petitioners, Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 2000 U.S. LEXIS 4487 (Apr. 26, 2000) (No. 99-699).
59 The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles. “A Proclamation to the World.” Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1995. See note 4.
60 Hinckley, Gordon B. “Why We Do Some of the Things We Do.” The Ensign 29 (November 1999), p. 54.
61 Prager, D. “Judaism, Homosexuality and Civilization.” Ultimate Issues 6, no. 2 (April-June 1990): 10.
62 Kimball, Spencer W. A Letter to a Friend (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, original work published in 1971, rev. 1978), p. 3.
64 Holland, Jeffrey R. “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments.” BYU 1987-88 Devotional and Fireside Speeches, Brigham Young University: 73-85.
65 Packer, Boyd K. “Church Relief Society Conference.” Salt Lake Tribune, 2 October 1971, sec B1.
66 Kimball, Spencer W. The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), p. 311.
67 Packer, Boyd K. “A Tribute to Women.” The Ensign 19 (July 1989): 73.
68 Oaks, Dallin H. “Same-Gender Attraction.” The Ensign 25 (October 1995): 7.
69 Faust, James E. “Serving the Lord and Resisting the Devil.” The Ensign 25 (September 1995): 5.
70 The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles. “A Proclamation to the World.” Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1995. See note 4.
71 Moses 2:27
72 See Moses 1:39.
73 Packer, Boyd K. “To The One.” Address given at a Brigham Young University 12-Stake Fireside. (March 1978): 5-20.
75 Packer, Boyd K. “TO The One.” Address given at a Brigham Young University 12-Stake Fireside. (March 1978): 5-20.
76 Oaks, Dallin H. “Same-Gender Attraction.” The Ensign 25 (October 1995): 10.
77 LeVay, Simon. Queer Science. MIT Press, 1996, 282.
78 Satinover, Jeffrey. Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, p.186. 1996.
79 Schwartz, M.F., and W.H. Masters (1984). “The Masters and Johnson Treatment Program for Dissatisfied Homosexual Men.” American Journal of Psychiatry 141, pp. 173-184.
80 James, Elizabeth (1978). “Treatment of Homosexuality: A Reanalysis and Synthesis of Outcome Studies.” (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation). Brigham Young University.
81 Nicolosi, Joseph, A. Dean Byrd, and Richard Potts (2000). “Retrospective Self-Reports of Changes in Homosexual Conversion Clients.” Psychological Reports, 86, 1071-1088.
82 Ritter, Malcolm (2001),”Study: Some Gays Can Go Straight “ New York Times, May 9.
83 ”Prominent Psychiatrist Announce New Study Results: “Some Gays Can Change.” May 9, 2001. News Release, NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), Encino, California.
84 Spitzer, Robert L. (2001). “Psychiatry and Homosexuality.” Wall Street Journal, May 23.
85 Vonholdt, Christl R. (1999) Spitzer Interview, February 29.
86 Paglia, Camille (1994). Vamps and Tramps. New York: Vintage Books, pp. 67-92.
88 Kimball, Spencer W. A Letter to a Friend (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, original work published in 1971, rev. 1978), p. 7.
89 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems: Suggestions for Ecclesiastical Leaders. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1992.
94 Packer, Boyd K. “To The One.” Address given at a Brigham Young University 12-Stake Fireside. (March 1978): 5-20.
95 Kimball, Spencer W. The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982).
96 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems: Suggestions for Ecclesiastical Leaders. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1992.
97 Byrd, A. Dean. “When a Loved One Struggles with Same-Sex Attraction.” The Ensign 29 (September 1999): 51.
98 Name withheld. “Becoming Whole Again.” The Ensign 27 (January 1997): 26-29.
99 Kimball, Spencer W. A Letter to a Friend (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, original work published in 1971, rev. 1978), p. 7.