06 January 2010

Another Baby Step Toward Understanding

Several months ago I ran across a blog post at Mormanity all about reparative therapy and how being gay was at least in part a choice and change was possible and basically incumbent on every gay Mormon to try for with every ounce of strength, etc. in order to stay in harmony with the gospel. The author cited a number of organizations and studies for his propositions.

I know this blogger to be a person of good faith. So I responded to his post, told him why I disagreed with it, why I believed some of it was wrong, and the corrections I thought he should make to it. I never attacked him personally, I took issue only with his arguments and sources. He wrote back as follows:

"Just got to your thoughtful email. Very persuasive, gives me much to think about. For starters, could I put anonymous excerpts from your post on my page to provide balance and alternative perspectives? Heavy stuff - will take me some time to digest. Thank you for your patience and kind tone!"

Several months went by, and I expected he'd forgotten about it. Then, last Saturday while I was crawling through post-holiday traffic on the 15 (that one's for you, David) southbound from Las Vegas, my iPhone suddenly went ding ding, and guess what. It was his long-promised e-mail. Guess what it said.

"You have raised enough substantial issues that I have taken down the page that I had on recovery from homosexuality. Maybe I'll revisit the topic sometime with updated info and new insights - appreciate the guidance."

So props to Jeff Lindsay at the Mormanity blog for his intellectual honesty. Would that everyone were like him when dealing with this subject. And while I can't tell you all of his specific arguments or send you to his post anymore, I can share what I wrote to him. I'm in the business of arguing and persuading so it's always nice when I actually prevail. So for what it's worth, here's what did the trick (warning, this is long):

I just read through your page on homosexuality. Let me say before I give you my opinions that I'm a lifelong member of the Church, served an honorable mission, married in the temple, have children, have served in ward and stake leadership and in the temple. I have read extensively about all the materials you cite and more besides. I have read NARTH's materials at length, as well as other materials which take opposing views. I have devoted as much time to this issue as probably any other I've ever studied, because I have spent over two decades doing everything that NARTH and Journey Into Manhood (e.g. Ben Newman's story) and other reparative therapists recommend for "changing" from gay to straight. And guess what, Jeff. It didn't work. It was nothing more than a recipe for misery and a deepening sense of despair and worthlessness. It tore me apart inside. I did my best to act and think and perform in all the ways the Church said I should, but all it did was turn me into Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I never broke the law of chastity; I was chaste before marriage and faithful during. I have been married but am no longer, and I continue to keep my baptismal and temple covenants.

But beyond that, Jeff, I have to tell you that I have studied in great depth everything your page talks about, and I disagree with just about all of it. And I'm not the only one. I have many gay friends in the Church who've done the same and reached my same conclusions. I have studied every verse of Biblical scripture that allegedly condemns homosexuality and read a ton of material about those verses. I am satisfied that people who know the scriptures a lot better than me or any LDS leaders have made an extremely compelling case that these verses do NOT mean what Mormons or other Christians normally take them for. Since the uniquely LDS scriptural canon says nothing whatever about this subject, the only possible conclusion is that LDS leaders have relied on the popular interpretations of Biblical verses for their own denunciations. Unfortunately, we saw this exact same pattern with issues of race and mixed marriages in the Church for a century and more, and the same outraged terminology was used for that issue as is now being used for issues of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Also identical was the absolute certainty that such racism was an eternal law and the unquestioned will of the Lord.

For years Spencer Kimball and Mark Peterson of the Twelve pursued personal campaigns to "root out" homosexuals in the Church and caused untold suffering and even suicides as a result. I cannot accept such actions or consequences as either inspired or Christlike. Their absolutely certain descriptions and denunciations of this "condition" have since been shown to be completely wrong, and since then the Church has shifted its stance considerably on this issue. Since there has been no canonized "thus saith the Lord" revelation about it during that time, the only possible explanation for this shift is that it reflects the opinions of the leaders of the Church who can no longer deny the growing body of evidence that homosexuality is just not what so many of them thought and taught for so long. The Church's prior positions have become simply indefensible. As a result, Jeff, I no longer trust the Church on this issue. I believe its leaders are speaking from personal agendas and prejudice, not by inspiration. As with the century-plus fight against racial equality and the Church's vigorous opposition to civil rights, once again the Church seems to be fighting a rear-guard action against what I see as a long-overdue social change toward tolerance, acceptance, charitable understanding, and the elimination of an unjust prejudice. Inspiration does not change so conveniently in tandem with professional opinion and research. Even Whitney Clayton of the Seventy acknowledged that California members were free to disagree with the First Presidency's stance on Proposition 8 without any implications for their membership. If opposition to gay marriage were truly a matter of doctrine, he would not have said this, and Church members who advocated voting No could all have been hauled before disciplinary councils for apostasy. To the best of my knowledge, this happened to no one. This again tells me that the Church's position against same-sex marriage reflects the opinions of its leaders, not revelation.

As to the Spitzer study which you place such great faith in, all I had to do was go to Wikipedia to find the following: "Spitzer's study has been criticized on numerous ethical and methodological grounds. Gay activists argued that the study would be used by conservatives to undermine gay rights. Researchers observed that the study sample consisted of people who sought treatment primarily because of their religious beliefs, and who may therefore have been motivated to claim that they had changed even if they had not, or to overstate the extent to which they might have changed. That participants had to rely upon their memories of what their feelings were before treatment may have distorted the findings. It was impossible to determine whether any change that occurred was due to the treatment because it was not clear what it involved and there was no control group. Claims of change may have reflected a change in self-labelling rather than of underlying orientation or attractions, and particpants may have been bisexual before treatment. Follow-up studies were not conducted. Spitzer stressed the limitations of his study. Spitzer said that the number of gay people who could successfully become heterosexual was likely to be "pretty low". He also conceded that the study's participants were "unusually religious." I place no faith in studies like this and I believe that if you are as intellectually honest as you seem to be, you should update your page to acknowledge these significant shortcomings in Spitzer's work.

My own experience probably would have made me a prime candidate for that study. As I said, due to my religious convictions, for years I was absolutely and unquestioningly devoted to doing everything I could to eradicate every trace of my homosexuality. I did everything that leading reparative therapists recommend and more. And Jeff, it made not a dent. All it did was give me coping skills. The orientation never changed. I note even from your page's link to Ben Newman's story that Journey into Manhood does not promise "change" that consists of converting homosexuality to heterosexuality. All it offers is the "possibility" of what are essentially coping skills--which I accomplished on my own. But the essential orientation never changed, and I remained miserable, torn in two halves inside. For a long time I thought I was doomed to go to my grave with this incredible torture raging inside me, that feeling ripped apart inside was what God intended me to be lifelong.

After my marriage ended for other reasons, I finally realized it was time to stop fighting with myself. Since coming out I have felt happier and more at peace with myself and in my faith than at any other time in my life. I have made this a matter of significant prayer and am satisfied that God knows who and what I am and He approves. I still live by Church standards and teach my children faith in the Savior and the gospel. But as I said, I no longer trust the Church for guidance on this issue. It has been incredibly wrong before on more than one issue, and I am satisfied that it is wrong now on this one. If we truly believe the 9th Article of Faith, and accept Joseph Smith's word that even the apostles would try to kill him if he told them what he knew about how heaven worked, then I have to believe we are still yet to learn not only many "great and marvelous things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" but some which will seem shocking and scandalous to a lot of us as well.

I don't want to be straight. Trying to be that way made me nothing but miserable. After fighting with myself desperately for so long in order to comply with what the Church told me I had to be and want in order to be good enough, and finding none of the peace ostensibly promised as a result, I have finally found what I never thought I would have: total peaceful acceptance of how God made me. Coming out finally killed the hurricane in my heart. It has compromised none of my faith in the Savior or the fundamentals of the gospel. It has also convinced me that there is a place for God's gay children in His kingdom and that the Church just doesn't know much about that place yet. Personally I don't think the Church is ready. The Saints are still so wracked with homophobia and fear and prejudice of the kind that used to be rampant in the Church about racial issues that I wonder if I will see any resolution of this issue in my lifetime. But eventually it must happen. There is a huge, gaping hole and profound contradictions in the Church's historical knowledge and its teachings about this issue. Things didn't change with the race issue until the Church's back was basically to the wall and the members were ready for it. I think the same thing has to happen with the issue of homosexuality as well.

I believe God is much more loving and accepting of His gay children than most members of the Church, and that He is ready to give us a much better place in the eternities than most Church members now think. He could not possibly have made so many of us this way if this condition were intrinsically evil, or if its exercise were sinful if done in appropriate ways. I take the Church at its word; if the same standard of morality applies to everyone, then the Church should not punish its gay members who enter legal, lawful same-sex marriages. If it does, then it is re-defining the law of chastity as taught in the temple and signaling to the world that it will now pick and choose which laws it will "obey, sustain and honor." That will be a very dangerous precedent to set, and will signal to Church members that the Church itself feels justified in a smorgasbord approach to belief and exercise of faith. Apparently it already takes this approach, since despite Pres. Hinckley's General Conference statements about "one standard for everyone," gay couples on Temple Square and at BYU are subject to eviction and discipline if they do nothing more than the simple hand-holding or innocent kissing that straight couples enjoy all the time.

That story is a good illustration of why I have many gay friends who have found it intolerable to remain within a Church so obviously dedicated to fighting everything about who and what they are. Personally I intend to remain chaste until I marry again. But if I marry again, it will be to a man. My children are completely supportive and believe--without any programming or explanation from me--that the Church was wrong about Proposition 8 and that opposition to gay marriage is absurd. These are baptized children who have had every Primary and FHE lesson your kids have, Jeff, and they reached this conclusion entirely on their own, I assure you. They are the future of the Church. When my daughter first saw a "Yes on Proposition 8" sign, she had no idea what it was about, so she asked me. I explained it to her briefly in terms a 9 year old could understand, as objectively as I could, both pro and con. She thought for a moment and then said "How does two guys getting married hurt someone else's marriage?" If a 9 year old could see that so clearly, Jeff, without any prior knowledge of the issue whatsoever, then that tells me a lot about the pettifogging that Church members engaged in while fighting that campaign. Same-sex marriage is inevitable in this country and ultimately the Church will have to make its peace with that fact. It's only a matter of time.

I know and know of so many gay men, in and out of the Church, who have found partners that they clearly love just as much as I'm sure you love your wife. Their devotion and faithfulness to their partners is clear. The happiness and fulfillment they feel in these relationships is visible in their eyes, and can be seen and felt just being around them. Having seen this love for myself, I can never accept the Church's denunciation of these relationships as "ersatz" or "deceived" or any of the other unfortunate pejoratives I hear tossed around by the ignorant. I cannot believe that God wants me or them to forego such happiness and fulfillment in this life, as the price of . . . well, of what? All the Church offers is speculation on this point. Speculation that at some future day, all of us will be magically transformed into something we don't want to be and can't imagine ourselves being happy with anyway. One of my friends described the Church's position this way: "Condemn yourselves to a life of loneliness, and after this life we'll reward you with something you never wanted!"

Do you see, Jeff, why so many gay men leave a Church whose current teachings make it so difficult if not nearly impossible for us to find peace or happiness? There is simply no room not only for gay people, but for homosexuality itself in current Mormon theology. According to that theology, we should not exist. Yet we do, we always have, and we always will. The Church presents us with impossible, intolerable conundrums and asks that we simply trust our eternal destinies to its leaders' current speculations. Yet prior leaders said the same thing, and have been shown to be dreadfully wrong. How can we trust the current ones now?

Like you, I think abusive, hateful rhetoric or actions are deplorable from either side of this issue. I was just as upset with the vandalism and demonstrations and screaming abuse from same-sex marriage advocates after the Prop 8 votes as I was with the hateful rhetoric and wildly hysterical prejudiced rumor-mongering I heard almost every Sunday in my own ward. The fear and prejudice on both sides runs deep and I almost despair sometimes that it can ever be successfully overcome. Frankly, though, if one side is more to blame than the other, it is the Church and those who supported Prop 8. Mormon money did something unprecedented in American history: it successfully removed a recognized civil right from a specifically targeted minority group based on religious differences. As a lawyer I can tell you that that is an accurate description of the Prop 8 result. And it makes me ashamed of my own Church, frankly, especially when I hear the pious pretended surprise amongst Church members at the backlash. Are Mormons really that clueless, that insulated within their own little bubbles? Apparently so! Church members claim to hold themselves to a higher Christian standard than many same-sex marriage advocates. I don't like many of those advocates' tactics but at least they don't pretend to be followers of the Savior. The blatant ignorance, myth-mongering, prejudice, fear and hate actively spread by alleged LDS Christians are therefore more blameworthy in my book.

So, to sum up. The overwhelming weight of professional opinion is that reparative therapy to change sexual orientation does not work, and for the small minority of people whom it actually helps, it really only teaches coping skills, it does not result in a truly verifiable complete change of orientation. The Spitzer study had serious flaws and you should acknowledge that in an update on your page. I personally have found more peace and happiness and contentment since coming out as a gay Mormon than I ever had before while fighting myself to try to conform to what the Church relentlessly told me I should want and should be. I believe the Church is wrong in its current approach to this issue and that history will ultimately prove that to be so. I believe God has a lot more to tell us that will surprise many of today's homophobic Mormons who try to disguise their prejudices by claiming to love the sinner--which most don't--while hating the sin--which they revel in doing. As long as the Church's teachings, programs and culture continue to make it well-nigh impossible for gay Mormons to find peace in the Church, they will continue to stream out of it. I can't believe God is pleased with that. You may see that as simply giving up, giving in to the world, falling prey to Satan's enticements, letting go of the Iron Rod and getting lost in the mists of darkness. Well, Jeff, all I can say is that the witness of my own heart, and that of many of my gay friends, many of whom remain active in the Church, is otherwise. Our faith in the Savior and the fundamentals of the gospel has never been stronger than now, after we've come out. AND we do not want to be straight. We love being gay and would not want to change even if given the chance. We are absolutely confident that God knows that our hearts are this way and that He will provide for us every blessing possible, even if the Church can't quite explain how just yet.

I have it on trustworthy authority that there are significant differences of opinion amongst the Church's top leadership over this issue. I can't help thinking of President Hugh B. Brown, who as a member of the Twelve and First Presidency advocated for years that the priesthood ban should be scrapped while facing vigorous opposition from others like Harold B. Lee who swore that "no black man will hold the priesthood while I live." Pres. Brown too was far ahead of the Church on that issue, but eventually it happened despite the opposition of people like President Lee. Again, Jeff, such anecdotes persuade me that the Church's current position about homosexuality and same-sex marriage reflects only the current understanding and prejudices of its leaders, who, I will be bold to say, are like most of the rest of the Church in not being ready yet for new light or knowledge that may completely upend what they always "knew" to be true. But that must happen sometime. The Church simply can't continue with this issue as it's done to date. More and more Church members, gay and straight, are publicly breaking ranks with the official line. When that reaches critical mass, as it did with the race issue, something will happen. That's always been the pattern. It has to happen again.

Thanks for reading.


Troy said...

Well said Alan!

Anonymous said...

Well done! I'm touched by your eloquence. Your letter is an example of how to meaningfully respond to ignorance with grace and civility. Anyone who reads this will be impacted by it. Please, continue to share it!

Frank Lee Scarlet said...

Wow, great job! I wish everyone in the Church would read this.

Romulus said...

Wonderful! I need to learn to write like you :)

Ezra said...

What an excellent letter... you're so level headed about these things.