Guest post: choosing sex or God

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.

19 thoughts on “Guest post: choosing sex or God

  1. Hey Nick, glad to see you posting on M*. This is a great post and I agree with it completely. It’s really discouraging to see individuals defined by sexual orientation rather than their identity as a child of God.

  2. Great post. The path is clear to those who understand the choices, that’s the key to this issue, but there are many who clearly do not get this.

  3. Nick, I appreciate much of what you say here. However, same-sex attraction is not just about whom one wants to have sex with–just as your relationship with your wife is not defined solely by your desire to have sex with her. A person who experiences SSA and desires to remain a Church member in good standing faces the very real prospect of going through life without ever finding a life partner with whom to share hopes and dreams and raise a family. They face the likelihood of going through life alone–not without rich and rewarding platonic relationships, but ultimately alone. Imagine what it would be like to know you couldn’t ever be held or kissed or even hold someone’s hand? Or to know you couldn’t make life plans with someone and that you would forever come home to an empty house? This issue is much bigger than just sex.

    I am a faithful member of the Church and wholeheartedly accept its positions on SSA. I also happen to be single and in my 40s, although I don’t experience same-sex attraction. As we support and love our brothers and sisters with SSA, I think it’s very important to understand the very real sacrifices the Lord is asking them to make. Improving our understanding improves our ability to provide empathy and love.

  4. Interesting take on free agency as not being “freedom to guess.” It is true that those who make righteous choices often do it because that choice seems obvious. It is not a “guess.” The way is clear. But those who leave the path do so because the way doesn’t seem obvious anymore. People with same-gender attraction look at the choice between celibacy in the LDS church or sexual relationships outside the church, and they have a hard time predicting which will bring greater happiness. In this ambivalence, they make a “guess” about which is better.

    But I’m personally uncertain about whether the gospel is always supposed to be obvious. If something is extremely obvious, can faith exist? Faith is in things hoped for, not seen. Witness comes after a “trial if faith.” Is it really “free agency” if the choice is obvious? You obviously shouldn’t jump off a cliff, because you will die. So is it really “free agency” to choose not to jump? Or is it free agency when the choice is NOT obvious, when there is a legitimate pull from both sides? I find it interesting how God set up the tree of knowledge of good and evil: “thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee…but remember that I forbid it.” Given, but forbidden. It can get confusing out there sometimes.

  5. Rikvah, the Lord asks of SSA-affected individuals the same thing he asks of us perpetually single heterosexual individuals of all ages and circumstances, even those of us who might be euphemistically labeled “low options” individuals.

    If you’ve been to LDS Single Adult events/progams, you should be able to picture “low options” folks. But there are even many more LDS singles who don’t participate in the Single Adult church programs.

    Singles make up a large percentage of church membership (I once heard 40% in my stake), much more than the 2%, or even sometimes claimed 4%, of the population who are estimated to be homosexual/SSA.

    Whether in the LDS church or other churches, SSA-affected folks make up a very small portion of the “celibacy club”.

    The rejoinder “but you heterosexual singles at least have a chance or a hope” only applies to the singles who are marriage “elligible”. Whether due to age, health infirmity, mental/personality problems, whatever, there are still more INelligble (for marriage) hetero singles than there are SSA-individuals.

    This is where I throw in the refrain about how homosexual men who even want to settle down with one permanent partner are an extreme minority. They are the exception, yet are put forth as the poster boys. Male homosexuality, with rare exception, is mostly about promiscuity, not love. Gay bars, bath houses, glory holes, gay gyms with private rooms rented by the hour, ex-convicts “on the down low” after prison, all attest to promiscuity, and sexual addiction, not love. And then there are anecdotes about how most male gay marriages are open marriages, or are “open” when one partner is out of town.

    If it was about love, instead of sex, gay men would have been known for pairing off and settling down long before SSM became a thing.

    So Nick is right to say it’s about sex, not love.

  6. There used to be the Darwin awards, for people who took themselves out of the gene pool. Don’t know if that’s still a thing, but there are any number of behaviors that effectively remove a person from the gene pool.

    We live in a time when folks are actually happy to imagine that the number of folks in the future gene pool will be fewer. It seems to be the reason that various behaviors (e.g., polyamory) are not only tolerated but celebrated by today’s elite. Promiscuity and giving away sex outside of committed/exclusive marriage are two factors correlated with poor outcomes for any resultant children.

    If we were in danger of dying out, these behaviors would not be tolerated, in my opinion.

    That said, there are ways and ways to show love to all those who are children of God. I’m not sure it is terribly helpful to castigate anyone. I’m reminded of the time my young daughter pointed at a man smoking a cigarette and intoned “He wants to die!!!” Likely not terribly effective in getting the man to reconsider his smoking habit.

    After my autistic daughter’s first physical as an adult, there were various terms to explain. For this audience we’ll refer to them as O-sex, A-sex, V-sex. The ensuing discussion clarified to me that the only way for humans to create new humans is through a variant of V-sex. And the only way you have procreative V-sex is if there is a male and a female.

    A male/female couple can do all kinds of other things to make each other feel good, but V-sex is the only procreative option. And V-sex is not really an option if you are combining any other sort of pairing.

    Mormon theology teaches us that procreation of some sort happens in eternity, at least amongst those willing to suborn their own will to the Will of God. Perhaps in eternity procreation will be as easy and joining left palmpads and inhaling three times sharply. But whatever that method might be, committing oneself to a fundamentally non-procreative configurations on earth seems poor preparation for claiming one has suborned one’s self to God.

  7. I’m reminded of a quote (which I shamelessly steal and don’t attribute):

    “Procreation is the closest thing we have in mortality to sharing in the power of God, and those of us who abuse that power in this life will lose it in the life to come.”

    It was given in an entirely different context, but it is applicable in many ways (including this discussion). Admittedly, from what I understand, resisting SSA can be a painful and difficult thing. But each of us is called to sacrifice everything to the Lord. Not just what is comfortable, or what we want to sacrifice, but everything. Each and every one of us will be called upon to make the Abrahamic sacrifice — will we put the Lord first or is there anything in this world that we love more than Him. We fool ourselves into believing that others don’t have to make the sacrifices that we have to (whatever our particular challenges may be), but in my experience everyone striving to follow Christ has either been called upon to make that sacrifice or will be.

    Perhaps we will be blessed to not have to go through with the actual sacrifice (we will be spared, as was Abraham). Perhaps, on the other hand, we will actually have to give up the thing second most precious to us. But either way, we must be prepared to give it up to the Lord.

    Whether it be phrased as love, sex, fulfillment, or any of a dozen different names (positive and negative), the thing that is forgotten is that this too must be sacrificed to the Lord. Whatever is most important to us, we must lay on the altar. Yes, perhaps those who suffer from SSA lay something upon the altar that they know will be accepted as a sacrifice and taken from them. They may genuinely lose out on companionship or other blessings in mortality. But in my experience, the greatest times of growth in my life have been those moments when I have surrendered something precious to the Lord knowing that my sacrifice (though painful) would be accepted and I would lose something that I desperately wanted. Abraham had to sacrifice so that Abraham would learn something about Abraham, and I have learned about myself as I have sacrificed (though, admittedly, I have a long way to go).

    What do those suffering under SSA attraction learn about themselves if they put their attraction and sexual identity above their discipleship? SSA is not exempt from the maxim that if we don’t put the Lord first, it won’t matter what we put ahead of Him.

  8. Rivkah writes: “As we support and love our brothers and sisters with SSA, I think it’s very important to understand the very real sacrifices the Lord is asking them to make. Improving our understanding improves our ability to provide empathy and love.”

    The irony of today’s world is that EVERYBODY knows and understands and empathizes with the sacrifices that those with SSA make because peoples’ private sex lives and predilections is all that the world seems to want to talk about. I was born in a time when sex lives were private, and I wish we could go back to a space of respectful privacy about peoples’ intimate relations rather than hearing about it on every TV show and movie (including, yes, even kids’ movies these days — remember when JK Rowling said that of course Dumbledore was gay?). So, while I believe that empathy is a very good thing, I think there is much more reason to be empathetic for other groups as well, and not just for people with SSA. I know literally scores of people in my stake who are heterosexuals over 45 years old and who will almost certainly never get married for a variety of reasons. Yet they continue to uphold the law of chastity. I wish they would get some empathy because the world doesn’t seem to care about them at all, and they have virtually no hope of marriage and long-term fulfillment. A bit of balance would be a very nice thing.

  9. Geoff writes, “The irony of today’s world is that EVERYBODY knows and understands and empathizes with the sacrifices that those with SSA make because peoples’ private sex lives and predilections is all that the world seems to want to talk about.”

    Again, Geoff, like the original post and Bookslinger’s comment, you’re reducing it down to sex. It isn’t just about sex.

    I find it puzzling that in a family-oriented church we are so quick to minimize the struggles of those who are unable to have a family. When they are straight, they are blamed for such reasons as being “too picky” or “not fixing their issues.” When they are gay, they are blamed because “all they want is to have sex with the same gender.” Why can’t we mourn with those that mourn instead of minimizing? Geoff rightly says we don’t acknowledge enough the sacrifices made by singles who are straight and older. Why can’t we be more compassionate toward both gay AND straight singles?

    Bookslinger, you seem to be making two contradictory points: first, that gay and “low options” straight singles are basically in the same situation; and second, that gays are totally different because for them, it’s all about sex and not the desire for companionship and family.

    While it may be true that gays, as a group, tend to be more promiscuous than straights, that says nothing about same-sex attracted believing Mormons. (Similarly, the fact that most straight people are sexually active before marriage says nothing about the goals and desires of hetero believing Mormons.) I’ve never heard of a believing SSA Mormon who expressed a longing for multiple sex partners. Bookslinger, may I gently ask if you have known personally many gay believing members and heard their stories?

    While there are certainly a lot of similarities between gay members and “low options” straights, there are key differences. Most in the latter category came to the realization over time that they would likely remain single–most didn’t have to resign themselves to that at a very young age. They don’t have to experience the shame and judgment that so many of our gay Mormon brothers and sisters do. They’re not caught in the middle of the culture wars, with the immense pressure that entails. The struggles of gay and straight single members are very similar in some ways and very different in others.

    I really appreciate Jonathan’s comments about sacrifice. I think it’s a very important concept to remember in these discussions. Yes, same-sex attracted members are like all other members in that all are required to put the Lord first.

  10. “Bookslinger, you seem to be making two contradictory points: first, that gay and “low options” straight singles are basically in the same situation; and second, that gays are totally different because for them, it’s all about sex and not the desire for companionship and family.”

    Those aren’t contradictory points, they are separate issues.

    The “same situation” is the law of chastity, what God expects.

    I may know few gays in the church. But likewise, you seem to know few gays and bisexuals outside the church.

    I’m totally with J Cavender and Geoff B about empathy and compassion. But I don’t go around demanding empathy and compassion for my single-hood and its varying underlying reasons. Nor do I insist that the rules be rewritten for people in my or similar situations.

    BTW If you get disrespected by local lds leaders for being single, see Matt 18:15-17. If you get disrespected by peers, ignore them or make new peers, or move.

    If you want to talk fairness, understanding, and empathy, it’s the Mormon gays, and their enablers/apologists, who need to have more of all that for the _many_ conditions, birth-defects, illnesses, accidents, and events that enforce single-hood, celibacy, and many forms of worse suffering across the whole gamut of humanity.

  11. As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, I get that it can be uncomfortable when the majority members of the culture are all triumphalist. As a racial minority raised in what used to be a completely white-dominated culture, I get how hard it can be to consider oneself beautiful and desired and loved when it seems no one else is like you.

    The challenge for the SSA individual is to realize that Mormons adhering to a religion celebrating a procreative heaven (e.g., the primacy of male-female unions) does not mean that Mormons hate SSA individuals.

    The challenge for Mormons is to realize how their triumphalist actions and sayings wound whichever minority individual who happens to also be a child of God.

    Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living,” or something similar. I would restate that to “You will be judged for your life, whether you ‘meant it’ or not.”

    Thanks to God that we have a Christ, a merciful Lord who will forgive our errors if we repent. Heaven knows we all have plenty to repent of.

    Those who have become mired in SSA bear a cross. However if these individuals are converted to the gospel as restored via Joseph Smith, it is not an option to give in to the SSA in deed.

  12. One more comment, and then I’ll exit this conversation.

    Bookslinger wrote, “I may know few gays in the church. But likewise, you seem to know few gays and bisexuals outside the church.”

    I referenced gay believing Church members precisely because they are the focus of the original post and the Atlantic article that inspired it. They are the ones who are affected by the requirements of the God of Mormonism. I doubt that most gay nonmembers are very interested.

  13. A part of me really appreciates what the LDS church is trying to do here. I mean, even as this post lays it out pretty starkly, I understand. Mormonism is intensely heteronormative — realistically, with the accumulation of theology being as it’s been, there’s not really a way to get around the idea, as Meg has pointed out, that Mormonism is a religion celebrating a procreative heaven, and so far, God has not deigned to be creative enough to define procreation in any terms outside of our earthly biological concepts. (Not that I can speak — how dare a mere mortal claim to be above God?!) Mormonism as a religion has set very strict standards, and it wouldn’t dare to compromise on those standards even if it could elevate some more folks lives by demanding a rigorous monogamy (against their supposed nature) instead of an absolute celibacy (against their supposed nature).

    It seems to me though, even as someone raised in the church, that I didn’t and don’t have a lot riding on the identity of being a “child of God”. It didn’t mean much positive to me, and instead was implicated in a lot of anxiety, depression, and negative affect — and that was when it triggered any response at all. I understand that for other people, things are different. Other people hear the word “God” and to them, that’s an actual being with which they can (or even do) have a relationship. But for me, the word God was how I exemplified the LDS concept of the “stupor of thought”.

    To people here, I chose sex over God. I perceived there would be more benefits to me and more room for growth to me to go with something tangible like that than something intangible like God. I accept my fate, whatever it may be.

    But I agree that for me, for my personality type, it would probably be easier to be celibate. I often think that if this relationship doesn’t work out, then I might do just that. And here’s a few reasons why:

    If I were celibate and not in a relationship, as the Law of Chastity demands, then I wouldn’t have to worry about dealing with a person whose personality is so different from mine…whose desires are very different from mine, and whose way of thinking about things is so very different from mine.

    If I were celibate and not in a relationship, as the Law of Chastity demands, then I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to serve someone who seems to frustrate even my best attempts because my instinctual response to serve are in ways that *I* would appreciate, not ways that *he* would appreciate.

    If I were celibate and not in a relationship, as the Law of Chastity demands, then I wouldn’t have to be humbled by the fact that although he experiences this same mismatch, he certainly works much harder at trying to figure me out and meet me on my level than I do at trying to figure him out and meet him on his level.

    If I were celibate and not in a relationship, as the Law of Chastity demands, then I wouldn’t have such a personal and tangible evidence of a non-family member (because familiarity can often breed contempt…or at least make you take things for granted) loving me first and loving me even when I didn’t consider myself all that lovable. If I were celibate and not in a relationship, as the Law of Chastity demands, then I wouldn’t be struck with the poignant message that this love is a gift, but even as a gift it demands a response, and that response is one that I must freely choose to give, and one that I actually have to work at.

    I understand that for many, companionship is so highly desired, and solitude is anathema. For me, solitude is cherished. It would easier for me to be alone, and maybe that’s the gift God gave me to deal with my “challenge” of SSA.

    But I can’t help but feel that for me to take that easy way out would also be missing something important that I am being given the opportunity to learn while in a relationship that I would never have to the same extent, degree, or magnitude elsewhere.

  14. The expectation we have as children of God is that each one of us, in our set of circumstances, will come before that God who is our Father (and the god that is our Mother) at the end of this period of time. None of us may return to Them except through the mediation of God our Brother, Christ.

    Our hope is that we may be able to return. Our faith is that Christ will mediate for us, that the obedience He and His servants request will make our return mossible. Our love is for God, His Son Jesus Christ, and for our fellows who are similarly children of God.

    I appreciate what Andrew is saying, that it is harder and more noble for him to live in a relationship with his male partner than it would be to selfishly remain celibate. But what might be missed is that Andrew’s response explicitly explains that he lacks the hope, faith, or love of God that would require obedience in the first place.

    Meanwhile, I do have a love for God. I have faith that His ways are wise, even when I cannot explicitly understand why, and I have hope that many of my brothers and sisters will desire to embrace God’s way prior to the final judgement. Thus I will love Andrew but retain a hope that he might some day regain the love that I believe inspired his decision to enter this mortal realm, even if he currently feels no love for God, but instead a stupor of thought.

  15. Andrew S., you don’t have to answer this, of course, … but … why do you stay in a relationship with someone “whose personality is so different from [yours]…whose desires are very different from [yours], and whose way of thinking about things is so very different from [yours]” ?

    Your description of yourself paints a picture of someone with Asperger’s/Autism Spectrum. And your description of your current relationship describes at least a little bit of manipulation on his part, and co-dependence on your part.

    Asperger’s/Autism seems to be a factor among many hetero singles. Many of us singles don’t understand how to start or maintain or end a relationship, at any level, casual friends, close friends, courtship, or marriage.

    For those who prefer solitude, whether homosexual or heterosexual individuals, there are still plenty of levels and forms of platonic (nonsexual) friendship, fellowship, companionship, group activities, service opportunities, learning opportunities, etc., that fall within the guidelines of even the strictest religions, let alone what secular society would consider healthy and acceptable.

  16. One couple can create say 4 to 10 bodies. They may or may not provide them the nurture that makes them aspire to oneness with God.

    One individual can plant the seed of faith in many. Far more than any couple can. Christ had no mortal seed but his spiritual seed is in the multi-billions. If we are to bear our cross in His image would we not strive for such a wide impact?

    Christ knew our sorrows so I presume that means he knew the pain of unfulfilled sexual desire. He transcended it and so must we.

    There is no doubt that the family is the most effective place for the nurturing of spiritual sons and daughters of God but we need to get over seeing it as entirely sufficient in itself. God put the role in the Body of Christ of which husband and wife and family are just members.

Comments are closed.