This is a guest post by Nick Galieti. Nick Galieti is an experienced podcaster and was named the recipient of the 2015 John Taylor: Defender of the Faith Award by FairMormon. Nick is the voice of Book of Mormon Central’s “KnoWhy” podcasts, and has directed and produced two documentaries on the life of Joseph Smith Jr., Picturing Joseph, and Murder of the Mormon Prophet.
An article was released by The Atlantic with the title, “Choosing Love or the Mormon Church.” The article addresses the issues of individuals who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and whom identify as gay, or experiencing same sex attraction. Aside from being somewhat divisive (something most article titles are supposed to do by design), the title makes as the assumption that the two, Love and the Mormon Church, are mutually exclusive. A good portion of the article makes a valiant attempt to humanize both the Church and those who identify with the LGBTQ community. I appreciate the effort that was put into the article and fear that my comments may be seen as an attack, which is not my intent. At the same time, the article makes some inaccurate assumptions that would be natural for one coming from the perspective of one on the outside looking in on the Mormon Community.
I won’t spend a great deal of time attempting to redefine how people identify themselves as being gay vs. not acting on same sex impulses. Although the world at large doesn’t see much of a difference between our impulses, or attractions, as being “who we are”, I see my effort to try and change that understanding to be a losing effort. However, I hope that those reading are able to understand that at least within a majority of the LDS or Mormon community, we seek to not define people by their sins, or by their impulses, but by their acts and in the intents of their hearts, if we “define” them at all. So if a person feels attraction to a person of their same sex, or if they feel attracted to someone of a different sex, it is the same so long as they don’t act in contrary to the Church’s Law of Chastity that states that there should be no sexual relations, except between husband and wife who are legally and lawfully married.
As challenging as this may be to some very vocal individuals, that is the real standard of the LDS or Mormon Church. It is a standard that has been held since its inception and there has never been any deviation from it. Even polygamy which was practiced for a limited period of time and within a very limited scope, was only allowed between husband and wife who were legally and lawfully wedded, but whom also was placed the requirement that it meet with ecclesiastical endorsement.
Acts by, and in support for the LGBTQ community as expressed by the LDS Church is an extension of love that we are encouraged to have for all people regardless of their choices, personalities, or circumstances.
Another point at which Mormonism and a good portion of very modern dialogue has diverged is the use of and definition of the word “love.” As used in the title, love is being offered as a sense of permissiveness which is a kind of perversion from its historical and theological use. In a modern day sense, love is the concept that implies that one’s choice has no negative consequence or impact on their character or eternal being and that all who have love simply need to “accept” an individual for “who they are.”
Any parent knows that true love, especially love that is enduring, is one that teaches, one that encourages improvement and enduring happiness while at the same time accepting and understanding that we are all at different stages in life. Love should be universal but it is not correctly understood to mean that love is without boundaries or laws governing or defining its meaning, and therefore its purpose. Attraction is also not equal to love, yet so many romantic comedy movies have exploited that lie for years.
The only real nuance that has been placed on this issue, as I see it, is the new policy (also mentioned accurately in the article) stating that youth of those who are living with those in a homosexual marriage are to wait until they are able to make a decision to be baptized into the faith or receive a name and blessing for church records. While there have been many differences of opinion and a wide range of emotions on that subject, the intent of this policy as expressed by Church leaders is to not divide families. They would rather see a preserved homosexual marriage and family situation, than see division, divorce, and contention result. This policy was meant to alleviate the already tremendous pressures placed on youth today by removing accountability for that decision to a later time in life, as well as show forth to the LGBTQ community that the two sides are not war as so many have felt.
Ultimately the article rests on this thinking of division and separation to continue its narrative of several stories of individuals who are genuinely navigating a difficult issue or choice. As the article itself rightly states, the church is clear that same sex attraction isn’t a sin, but it is a sin to act on those feelings to engage is gay marriage or sexual relations with same sex individuals. However, the subtitle for the article states, “Young, LGBT Latter-day Saints can’t live the ideal life of marriage and family described in their religion. But deciding to leave isn’t straightforward.” Few today do live what some see as stereotypically “ideal,” this is not unique to those who identify as LGBTQ. Therefore, the challenge in the choice isn’t necessarily between love and the Mormon Church as the title states, it is between the choice of engaging in sex and following God. The choice is: “Do I want to have homosexual sex, or do I want to follow God’s commandments as given through the leaders of his Church?” For that matter, this is the same challenge that any unmarried individuals face in the church. Unmarried individuals are not permitted to have sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman either, so in some respects the choice isn’t as unique as the LGBTQ community outside of the faith wishes it to be.
While it is understandable that this may sound a bit crass, and to some over simplified, the choice isn’t whether or not to have same sex attraction and Mormonism. There is no line to cross, there is no ambiguity to navigate with this question. You can have same sex attraction and stay an active and welcome participant in the faith. There are some who identify as gay, and have chosen to be married and have lived very happy lives, while others who have chosen to live a celibate life but engage in all other aspects of the faith. So, even if a person does identify as being gay based on their emotions or attractions that they are experiencing, there is no need for distinction between Mormonism and homosexual attraction. The only real line that divides the two is the choice of engaging in sexual relations or not.
While it is not my intention to slam or discredit the article in the Atlantic as I do appreciate their effort to put forward a hand to bridge the narrative, I also feel that highlighting this issue by its challenges rather than the opportunities for growth and unification, it has chosen to perpetuate the idea that the choice is overwhelming and the path unclear. It doesn’t mean the choice is emotionally easy, but the path is not unclear, in fact it is perfectly clear on the part of the church and its policy change which was meant, at least in part, to help reduce the ambiguity in the choice. The principle of moral agency requires that individuals know the consequences of their choices. LeGrand L. Baker in his book Joseph and Moroni wrote, “Freedom to choose can be a reality only when we can distinguish between our choices. If we do not know the source of our ideas, then we cannot know which idea we can trust, because unless we know the source of the ideas from which we may choose, we cannot accurately predict the consequences. If we do not know the consequences, then we are able to exercise no more real freedom of choice than one who is asked to choose when he has been blindfolded. Freedom to guess and freedom to choose are not the same thing. Freedom to guess is being given the right to choose while being denied the criteria upon which one may judge. That is only pretended freedom. It may look like freedom, we may even accept it as freedom but in reality it is a kind of slavery instead.”
The choice before individuals who identify as gay, or who experience same sex attraction, is clear. Look to the source of your “information” and judge it. If you feel that you are a slave to this decision, then you are operating without the full information. The choice is now left up to the individual, not society, and not the church. The consequences of this choice are left up to the individual. The choice should be made prayerfully as would any other life choice. If one believes that the church is true and receives a confirmation of such from the same God who made them, then the choice is clear. It may not be easy, but the choice is clear.