Tuesday, October 12, 2010

LDS Response to HRC Petition: Reading Between the Lines

Those of you following the news are quite aware of the controversy surrounding the comments of Boyd K. Packer in the latest LDS General Conference.  Packer objected to gay marriage stating, “to legalize that which is basically wrong or evil will not prevent the pain and penalties that will follow as surely as night follows day.”  He also characterized homosexuality as “impute and unnatural,” rhetorically asking, “Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”


The Human Rights Campaign (a group advocating LGBT equality) delivered a petition today with 150,000 signatures denouncing Packer’s message statements as “dangerous” as well as “factually and scientifically wrong.”

In response to this statement, a protest by thousands of LGBT Utahans last Thursday, and other online protests, the Church released a statement today outlining its stance regarding marriage, treatment of LGBT individuals, and sexual attraction vs. sexual behavior.   The conference, petition, and response all come in the midst of a series of LGBT suicides. 

I present the full statement to be followed by commentary:

My name is Michael Otterson. I am here representing the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to address the matter of the petition presented today by the Human Rights Campaign.

While we disagree with the Human Rights Campaign on many fundamentals, we also share some common ground. This past week we have all witnessed tragic deaths across the country as a result of bullying or intimidation of gay young men.  We join our voice with others in unreserved condemnation of acts of cruelty or attempts to belittle or mock any group or individual that is different – whether those differences arise from race, religion, mental challenges, social status, sexual orientation or for any other reason.  Such actions simply have no place in our society.

White Ribbon Pride

This Church has felt the bitter sting of persecution and marginalization early in our history, when we were too few in numbers to adequately protect ourselves and when society’s leaders often seemed disinclined to help.  Our parents, young adults, teens and children should therefore, of all people, be especially sensitive to the vulnerable in society and be willing to speak out against bullying or intimidation whenever it occurs, including unkindness toward those who are attracted to others of the same sex. This is particularly so in our own Latter-day Saint congregations. Each Latter-day Saint family and individual should carefully consider whether their attitudes and actions toward others properly reflect Jesus Christ’s second great commandment - to love one another.

As a church, our doctrinal position is clear: any sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, and we define marriage as between a man and a woman. However, that should never, ever be used as justification for unkindness. Jesus Christ, whom we follow, was clear in His condemnation of sexual immorality, but never cruel.  His interest was always to lift the individual, never to tear down.

Further, while the Church is strongly on the record as opposing same-sex marriage, it has openly supported other rights for gays and lesbians such as protections in housing or employment.

The Church’s doctrine is based on love. We believe that our purpose in life is to learn, grow and develop, and that God’s unreserved love enables each of us to reach our potential. None of us is limited by our feelings or inclinations. Ultimately, we are free to act for ourselves.

The Church recognizes that those of its members who are attracted to others of the same sex experience deep emotional, social and physical feelings. The Church distinguishes between feelings or inclinations on the one hand and behavior on the other. It’s not a sin to have feelings, only in yielding to temptation.

There is no question that this is difficult, but Church leaders and members are available to help lift, support and encourage fellow members who wish to follow Church doctrine. Their struggle is our struggle. Those in the Church who are attracted to someone of the same sex but stay faithful to the Church’s teachings can be happy during this life and perform meaningful service in the Church. They can enjoy full fellowship with other Church members, including attending and serving in temples, and ultimately receive all the blessings afforded to those who live the commandments of God.

Obviously, some will disagree with us. We hope that any disagreement will be based on a full understanding of our position and not on distortion or selective interpretation. The Church will continue to speak out to ensure its position is accurately understood.

God’s universal fatherhood and love charges each of us with an innate and reverent acknowledgement of our shared human dignity.  We are to love one another. We are to treat each other with respect as brothers and sisters and fellow children of God, no matter how much we may differ from one another.

We hope and firmly believe that within this community, and in others, kindness, persuasion and goodwill can prevail.

The good:

  • What was said about bullying needed to be said in the current atmosphere—at a divisive crossroad characterized by finger pointing in the wake of suicide after suicide attributed to homophobic bullying. 
  • The emphasis on the second great commandment to love one another. 
  • Clarification regarding behavior and acting upon it as well as the Church’s doctrinal/political stance in the marriage debate. 

The bad:

  • With such an emphasis on compassion, something is also lacking in this sense.  Compassion is more than simply understanding a state of suffering.  It also encompasses treating one another as one would want to be treated.  This was in part the inspiration of the 11th Article of Faith and remains my only point of contention:
    • We claim the aprivilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the bdictates of our own cconscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them dworship how, where, or what they may.

Handcarts Crossing River

  • I have ancestors who died crossing the Great Plains fleeing persecution.  I still don’t claim to understand completely the trials they faced.  In a conversation with, say, Rosa Parks or Susan B. Anthony, I would never compare the experiences of my ancestors to their fights or frustrations.  The comparison is simply lacking not because the suffering wasn’t comparable, but because it is removed.  Today’s bullying and inequality are equally distinct. 

Some gray areas still remain:

  • What actions define bullying? Where do the lines stand between defending the faith and respecting someone’s sexual orientation?  Comments like “Just looking at the mechanics of men and women we know homosexuality was not what God intended. We can love those people that haven chosen this "lifestyle" but denounce the behavior. I wish people understand the difference. Homosexuality is a choice not the way God intended”  could be construed as both. 
    However, to the eighteen-year old boy praying continuously to God to be healed and fixed to no avail, what conclusion is to he come to but that he’s evil? 


naturgesetz said...

Looking at it from the outside, I would hope that the LDS, as well as every other religious community, would emphasize to the 18 year old in your concluding question, they God does not consider them evil because of their orientation; God is pleased that they wish to live according to his will; and whether or not God chooses to answer their prayer by changing their orientation, he will be pleased if they live their lives in obedience to him; they are not evil because of their inclinations.

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

Agreed. I think this is the ideal that needs to be taught, but sooner than eighteen. Friends have experienced these feelings of self-hate as early as 6 years old. In my experience, I feel the youth of the Church get exactly the opposite message because people are afraid to bringing the topic up at all with young people, let alone framing those feelings in an optimistic light. This is in part because you are basically expected to marry by the age of 23 in the LDS Church in Utah.

Thanks for the comment. It inspired an epiphany and a post.

Anonymous said...

Weakness isn't evil. More often than not, weakness can be turned into inspiration for others. It's not about getting rid of the weakness and temptation, it's about using it for good.

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