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Random Wisdom

“With the first link, a chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” — Jean-Luc Picard



Inside the Mormon Closet

By J.D. Moss
The Texas Triangle 1996

 

             When I walked into the High Council chambers Sunday evening I was confident in what I wanted to represent and confident I would be rejected.

            This disciplinary hearing, held by The Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints, represented the end of 18 years membership in the Mormon Church. Eighteen years of devoting my life, soul and service completely to the church.

            Accompanied by my Bishop I took my seat at the end of the room, facing the Stake President[1] with his two counselors, at his flank. To my left set six men who were to represent the church. At my right set six men who were to represent my interest. We all wore the customary attire; dark suits, white shirts, and ties. We showed the customary mood; reverence.

            “Brother Moss, thank you for coming.”  The Stake President’s voice was kind, as it had always been. His face seemed sad, maybe even tired.  “Everyone has been briefed on your situation so please tell your story as you’ve told it to me.”

“I…” hesitation.

Fifteen faces, 30 probing eyes, waiting. Some of these men I knew – the others strangers. I couldn’t decide whose presence bothered me the most.

 “I am homosexual.”

             Twenty years ago that admission would get you excommunicated. Today it might get you sympathy, lectures and counseling, yet you would not lose your membership if you were willing to subject yourself completely to the will of the church.

Varying statistics suggest there are 400,000 to 750,000 gay Mormons.[2] The vast majority seem deeply confused and hurt. Not so much because they are homosexual, but because of the great stress they encounter trying to find peace within a religion that rejects them.

            Conservatism is the heart of Mormonism. Family values are a sacred truth with no room for liberal acceptance of gays. Christianity does reach out a hand of love, yet it does not extend it fully and requires much sacrifice on part of those who wish to hold that hand.

            Since “coming out“ I have talked to over a hundred gay Mormons. Each story is similar. The situations differ from person to person, yet the emotional turmoil suffered is the same. Feelings of loneliness, isolation, guilt, and frustration are shared experiences.

            Jeff, a 19-year-old gay Mormon living in Utah, the heart of Mormonism, is no longer an active member because he believes the Church’s stand on homosexuality is wrong. His family “is still staunch LDS” as are most of his friends.

“Some people have handled it quite well, and others haven’t.” Even friends who still associate with Jeff believe he is living contrary to God’s will.

            Accepting himself as a gay man was traumatic.

“I became depressed, suicidal and ended up having to be hospitalized for about five days.”

Such experiences are common for homosexuals with strong religious ties. Everything they are taught declares homosexuality a sin. In accepting who they are, they are aware of the rejection they face from the Church.   They are, however, unaware of the pain such rejection may cause.  A pain so acute, Jeff describes it as “Ripping the religion out of my soul.”

 

            Gene, 18, has lost most of his friends, suffered rejection from family, and excommunication because they found out he was gay.  So rough has been his experience that he moved across the country and changed his name.

“I am not going to take it anymore.”  Gene says with a mixture of sadness and anger. “And if they (the church) can’t handle it, then they can just kick my fat butt out.” 

            He too has struggled with suicide, depression and loneliness. Gene believes it is not because he is gay, but because trying to conform to the Church’s inflexible paradigm of sexuality created such unbearable stress.

 “I am just so tired.  I have tried so hard to be what they wanted me to be, but (I’ll) be damned that they don’t always screw with my head and with my emotions.”

           

            I spent an hour telling the council my story. I spoke calmly, honestly and from the heart. I wanted these men to feel a part of the pain I suffered.

            I told of suicide notes written weekly, and of the suicide attempt. The depression. The tears. The hours spent on my knees in prayer and the endless searching of scriptures, fasting, and obedience to my priesthood leaders. I shared with them the years spent in misery trying to be non-gay.

            I also bore testimony of the peace found in accepting myself for who I am. I testified of answered prayers that stopped me from wanting to die. Answered prayers telling me my Heavenly Father accepted all of me, even the part that was homosexual.

            Spencer W. Kimball, President of the Church from 1973-1985, said the door leading to heterosexuality would be opened for homosexuals, yet we must knock at that door “until your knuckles are bloody, till your head is bruised. It can be done.”[3] I told these men I had done all this and more.

            I conveyed these things not only with words, but also with every ounce of emotion and spirit I had to give. When I was done, they began. They had questions; I agreed to answer.

Yes, I believed in the law of chastity. What I wanted was to be able to love and marry someone of my own sex.

No, I did not believe this to be against God’s will.

Yes, I want to be a member of the church.

            No, I did not believe homosexuality was a handicap, such as a blind person, nor was it a disease like alcoholism.

The questions continued for about two hours. All but one seemed to believe I was gay and would not change. They also believed God had answered my prayers, letting me know I was loved and accepted even though I was gay. 

Then the Bishop spoke on my behalf. He told of the service I had given to the church, of how good a person I was, of my strong spirit and the love I shared with others.

Next, a friend spoke of how special a person I was.  How dedicated to finding the truth, how much I gave of myself to the service of the church and others. How I honored my priesthood and was a good example to others.

After all the testimonies, all the questions I was dismissed so they could decide what should be done.

 

David believes in God, yet now says the church “is completely wrong.”  He is 18, bisexual and feels the church is hypocritical.

“They’ll sit there and listen, but they’ll automatically jump back at you and go ‘repent, repent, repent.”

David has a great fondness for his friends within the church, yet feels he could never tell them about his sexuality. “They’d say your gay and I don’t want to associate with you anymore.”

His response is not unlike many others who feel they must remain silent in order to maintain their membership.  Most feel there is no middle ground offered and that gay members are not treated well.

Gene has had priesthood leaders yell at him for using a pink highlighter in his scriptures. A Sunday school teacher prepared a special lesson condemning homosexuality for his benefit, and has had parents move their children away from him if he gets too close.

“They’re afraid I’m going to molest them or something.”

            These reasons show why gay members tend to work so long in finding a way to become non-gay.  If being accepted were not a strong enough reason, add their deep- rooted faith that what the church teaches is true.  Most have a difficult time questioning divine leadership and will try anything to do as they are commanded.

            Carol Lynn Pearson explains the great lengths that some LDS members go to looking for a “cure”. In her book Good-bye I Love You she tells the story of Sam who so badly wanted to be straight he spent years and $15,000 in therapy, yet still found himself a homosexual. He turned to Brougham Young University for counseling and shock therapy. Still he was gay. 

            Pearson also tells of a young man who was told by a General Authority, a member of the main governing body of the church, he would be better off if he tied a millstone around his neck and jumped into the Great Salt Lake than to be homosexual; so the man killed himself. Church leaders giving and approving such destructive advice is nothing new.

 

Elder Boyd K. Packer lightheartedly remembers an incident in which a missionary came to him upset because he hit his male companion, after the companion made a sexual advance.

“Well thanks,” Packer replies. “Somebody had to do it, and it wouldn’t be well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way.”[4]

 

Despite such accounts, some feel the Church is changing. Not their views about homosexuality, but how church leaders address the subject.

            In an address given on March 8, 1978, Elder Packer talks of homosexuality being a perversion, unnatural, abnormal and an affliction.  The cause of the disorder is  “… a very typical form of selfishness.”  He believes the root of the perversion is a selfish unwillingness to have children. “One can not procreate alone, one cannot procreate with his own gender.”[5]

            In the official church handbook from 1981 entitled Homosexuality leaders list some reasons for homosexuality as: a disturbed family background: lacking a “warm, supportive, affectionate relationship” with the father. An “overprotective and dominant“ mother, failure to “learn proper masculine and feminine behavior”,  poor relationship with peers, unhealthy sexual attitudes and early homosexual experience.

            After a decade of what could be termed progress, the 1992 leadership handbook, entitled, Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems, does not go into much detail or explanation on why a member is homosexual. Instead it states, “No general agreement exists about the causes of such problems.”

            The current trend is to adjust the member’s actions, abonishing them to stay away from other homosexuals, pornography, and masturbation. Encouraging them to improve their diet, to exercise and listen to inspirational music.

            Formally homosexual members were encouraged to marry the opposite sex to help them become non-gay. Pearson tells of the struggle she and her homosexual husband went through.   They married knowing of his homosexuality, both agreeing with their Bishop that if he had a woman whom he truly loved, it would all work out. It did not work out, and the church now knows in most cases it does not.

            “Marriage should not be viewed as a way to resolve homosexual problems. The lives of others should not be damaged by entering a marriage where such concerns exist.” The 1992 handbook further states, “ Encouraging members to cultivate heterosexual feelings as a way to resolve homosexual problems generally leads them to frustration and discouragement.”

            The Church now screens new members more carefully. Before a perspective member is baptized they must go through an interview session. One question asks if the member has had any homosexual contact. If the answer is yes the person must have a special interview to determine that they no longer are prone to homosexuality. If they are still struggling, their acceptance into the Church is unlikely.

            Also gone is the certainty that every homosexual member can become heterosexual. Spencer W. Kimball wrote in his 1969 book, The Miracle of Forgiveness  “the glorious thing to remember is [homosexuality] is curable.”  Today the church is more cautious in its guarantees. They have discovered most who are truly trying and doing, as “the Lord” commands may never be able to eradicate homosexual feelings.

            Facts and logic may be forcing the church to change some of its views, yet does that mean any large-scale policy change is likely to take place? Most members say no.

            “Kimball wrote that masturbation leads to homosexuality, many chose to believe that in the 70’s, but not today. It makes no sense. Most men masturbate, and most men are non-gay,“ says Matthew, excommunicated in 1991. “The church still teaches that masturbation is wrong, still teaches that legal marriage between two people of the opposite sex is the only correct way of living. They are trying to be more loving about us, yet they still view us as evil.”

There is much truth to this. In February 1994 the Church released a statement condemning same sex marriages and encouraged members to oppose “All efforts to give legal authorization or other approval or support to marriages between persons of the same gender.” [6]

            Then, in February of 1995 the Mormon Church took a step into the political arena when they publicly joined with the Catholic Church in Hawaii to oppose legalization of same sex marriages in that state.  This is an unusual move for a church that seldom ventures from their political closet.  Don Hallstrom, the Church’s regional representative for Hawaii, stated: 

“There are times when certain moral issues become so compelling that churches have a duty to make their feelings known.” 

            The LDS Church has drawn a line in the sand. They are willing to go only so far in the acceptance of members who are gay, and still reject homosexuality as normal.  Many gay Mormons are greatly concerned about these actions and wonder how they will fit in to the church’s plans for the future.  These members feel the need for the spiritual guidance the church offers and do not wish to abandon their faith.

            However, the church presumes the power to revoke a member’s ability to practice their faith.  In my case the High Council Disciplinary Hearing, held on December 19, 1993 decided to disfellowship me.  A disfellowship places varying degrees of restrictions on the member. For me the restrictions prevented me from holding any church office, participating in meetings, or offering public prayer.  I was not allowed to partake of the sacrament or exercise the priesthood in any way. 

            Additionally they asked me  “…To move away from all homosexual involvement including the telephone help line.”[7] (Referring to a national LesBiGay youth support Helpline, Out Youth Austin, where I am a volunteer)

            I was encouraged to repent, attend church meetings with “appropriate conduct”, pray, read scriptures, and pay my tithes. Graciously, I was also permitted to ”retain the right to have the Holy Ghost in my life.”

            It should be noted that the love and concern shown was genuine, however such love and my membership were based on a conditional love, not the unconditional love we are taught Jesus Christ offers.

            “I still love God and believe in the church. “ Ben says calmly.

At 33 and living with AIDS, he is the person most at peace of all those interviewed. This is not to say he does not feel pain. He does. The letter the church sent, informing him of his excommunication still burns deep.  

“ It said because of my deviant homosexual activities, my name had been stricken… All records of my baptism and membership were gone, like they never happened.” 

The church did not even want his tithing, calling it “tainted money.” 

            “ The church told me to date women and play sports, ya, like being around a bunch of men in their tight little baseball uniforms was really going to help.” He remembers laughing. “ If the Church would have accepted me for who I was, things would be different.”

            Ben says he believes strongly in the principles he learned in the church. He does not believe promiscuous behavior is correct, that his behavior subsequent to losing his membership was wrong.

“ I would have been monogamous, I never would have strayed, would never have drank, never got involved in the world of drugs.”

            He dreamed of marring a man he loved and living a strong family life. Because the church would not accept his homosexuality as a natural part of himself, his dreams were dashed. 

“I wish I would have had the church’s support, because I would have been monogamous.  I don’t think I would have AIDS.” Yet quickly ads, “ I’m not bitter about that, I don’t hold them responsible. Though, without their support, I felt I had nothing to guide me.”

            Even though the church took away his membership he still calls himself a Mormon.

“ I don’t think them physical[ly] taking my name off the books really changes my true membership.  I [joined] spiritually and that’s stronger.”

            Asked if he would rejoin the church if they would accept homosexuality, he answers without hesitation, “ Ya, you bet.”

 

            On February 23, 1995, a second Disciplinary Council was held and this time they decided: “You have been excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for apostasy.”

            I had not been willing to submit and follow the will of the church, and this was considered a desertion of my faith.  If I am an apostate, then I am an apostate for justice’s sake.  If I am rebelling, then I am rebelling against prejudice and the immorality of such prejudice.  I have not given up all my beliefs, though I do disagree with a major part of Mormon doctrine.

 

            The hope for meaningful change lies not in the leadership in Salt Lake City, but in the emerging support, love and acceptance from the individual membership.  It is there that you see the greatest love and understanding.

            The Mormon attitude does not always reflect the general membership, nor do those members influence it.  Its patriarchal influence helps reinforce age-old prejudices and untruths, yet many members also feel a need for the church to catch up to modern day enlightenment.  With so many gay members coming out of the Mormon closet, the lives and hearts of their parents, children, friends and leaders are being affected in a positive way.  No longer can they pretend that homosexuals are evil abominations seen only in biblical readings.  The truth is, homosexuals are their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, parents and friends.  The truth is, they are not evil. They are good people. The same people they were before coming out of the closet. Whether they retain their membership in the church, have been excommunicated or left on their own, they still have a right and need to belong.  As Matthew says, 

“I know God will make all things right.  What has happened to me and is happening to others is wrong.  It is a question of morality.  I know I’m morally right and it is the church [which] is sinning.”

 

 

 

 


[1] The leading priesthood leader in a selected area.

[2] From affirmation.org

[3] The Miracle of Forgiveness

[4] To Young Men Only. Boyd K. Packer. Address given at General Conference October 2, 1976

[5] To The One.  Boyd K. Packer.  Address given at Brigham Young University March 5, 1978.

[6] Same Gender Marriages.  First Presidency Statement Issued February 1, 1994

[7] 1993 Letter of Dis-fellowship.

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