Is there doctrinal space in the LDS church to accept gay marriage? A conversation with a CES Coordinator

Background: the family member of a friend recently sent me a request on Facebook. When I followed the request to his Facebook profile, I immediately noticed two things: 1) He was very vocal about his opposition to gay marriage, with most of his recent activity containing links and articles from the LDS church opposing gay marriage, and 2) He was a white man married to a black woman. This piqued my interest, because it was my study of the church’s history prohibiting interracial marriage that first raised questions in my mind about the church’s current stance against gay marriage. I accepted the friend request and initiated the following exchange, looking for some insight as to how he reconciles the past and current policies. Our conversation went back and forth via Facebook messages and email for a couple of months, during which time I learned he is employed as a CES coordinator for LDS Institute programs. Upon completing our exchange, I asked if he would be willing to share our conversation publicly, and gave him the opportunity to review and revise his comments, which we both did. The exchange is presented below, as written. He has chosen to remain anonymous, and wanted to make it clear that he was speaking as a private individual, and not on behalf of the LDS church.

Mike Frost: Hi XXXX. Since you’ve reached out to be my friend on Facebook, and are obviously quite vocal about your opposition to gay marriage, I hope you don’t mind if I engage you on that topic. I realize that church leadership are currently opposed to gay marriage, and that you are following their lead. In my own life as an active member, I’ve come to question that teaching. After all, they also very strongly discouraged interracial marriage, at times even teaching that those that do marry between races should be killed. Even though that rhetoric has been toned down, the church handbook still officially discourages interracial marriage. If they were wrong on that issue, why not this one?

CES Coordinator: A same sex relationship should not be called a marriage. Marriage between a man and a woman was instituted by and is ordained of God and has been understood in human culture as we traditionally define it. No scripture, nothing in the standard works, no revelation tells us a same sex intimate relationship is or can ever aspire to be pleasing to God, and if we as a society choose to call such relationships marriages, it would still not change God’s moral laws. The only thing that could alter this would be a revelation from Father that would alter the law of chastity as we know it. Based on what we know about the plan of salvation, the Atonement, the purpose of life and from the totality of temple ordinances, covenants and teachings, this appears impossible.

The Family – A Proclamation to the World” which we accept as doctrine and regard as scripture, and which offers the formal, official and united voice of the leading councils of the Church, declares that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God. I believe that. As Sister Linda K. Burton recently emphasized, “The nature of male and female spirits is such that they complete each other.” (Church Handbook 2, 1.3.1, quoted in “We’ll Ascend Together”, 2015). The relationships between male and female, husband and wife, and the Lord, are integral parts of the laws, ordinances and covenants we observe in order to prepare for and enter into the celestial kingdom. Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson recently stated in General Conference,

When President Gordon B. Hinckley first read “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” 20 years ago this year, we were grateful for and valued the clarity, simplicity, and truth of this revelatory document. Little did we realize then how very desperately we would need these basic declarations in today’s world as the criteria by which we could judge each new wind of worldly dogma coming at us from the media, the Internet, scholars, TV and films, and even legislators. The proclamation on the family has become our benchmark for judging the philosophies of the world, and I testify that the principles set forth within this statement are as true today as they were when they were given to us by a prophet of God nearly 20 years ago.” (“Defenders of the Family Proclamation”, 2015, emphasis added.)

The truth “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11), points to eternal marriage and exaltation being exclusively available to a man and a woman together, not any of them by him or herself and not with a person of the same gender.

As long as civil partnerships are honored in law, reasons to redefine marriage seem dubious. These two gay men explain my position on a redefinition of marriage very well.

In the past, interracial marriage was discouraged, it seems, for perceived doctrinal reasons, and I am happy that we have learnt that theories of color representing degrees of valiancy in the pre-earth life, etc. have been refuted. In later years, the Church seem to give general marriage advice based on what research has shown, for instance, that, empirically speaking, marriages are most likely to succeed when the partners are of the same race, economic background, culture, etc.

As we seek for answers to our gospel related questions, we should look to this counsel by elder Cook:

We recognize that some members have questions and concerns as they seek to strengthen their faith and testimonies. We should be careful not to be critical or judgmental of those with concerns—great or small. At the same time, those with concerns should do everything they can to build their own faith and testimony. Patiently and humbly studying, pondering, praying, living gospel principles, and counseling with appropriate leaders are the best ways to resolve questions or concerns.” (“The Lord is My Light”, 2015.)

Mike Frost: Thanks, I appreciate the thoughtful response. With regards to the Proclamation on the Family, the church has deliberately made the decision not to add it to our canon as scripture, which would include adding it the Doctrine and Covenants, something it has had multiple opportunities to do since there have been a number of updates and reprintings of the standard works since the Proclamation was issued.

To add to the scriptures, as described by D&C 28:13, “all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church.” When new scripture is to be added, it is presented to the membership and ratified by common consent. There have only been six times in church history that new canon has been added to the scriptures:

  1. The original publication of the Book of Mormon (1830)
  2. The first 103 sections of D&C (1835)
  3. An additional 32 sections added to D&C (1880)
  4. The official declaration ending the practice of polygamy (1891)
  5. The addition of sections 137 and 138 added to D&C (1976)
  6. The ban lifted on the priesthood (1978)

It might interest you to know that the specific language for the Proclamation on the Family was actually drafted by church lawyers, not the brethren, for use in an amicus curiae brief in the 90s in a court case in Hawaii about gay marriage. The reason the church needed to issue the proclamation as that time was to establish that it had a reason to be heard, despite not being one of the parties of the case. This seems like a pretty unusual way to go about drafting new doctrine for the church.

From the outset of our conversation, I want to continue to stress that the example of church leadership being wrong about interracial marriage is key for me, because it shows that church leaders inappropriately restricted marriage for more than a hundred years, and have since changed their minds, with no new revelation ever published to reverse past teachings. The extension of the priesthood and temple blessings to blacks was considered unthinkable in the church for many years, precisely because it was based on scripture and prophetic teachings. Race was taught to be inherent, predetermined by God Himself based on worthiness in the pre-earth life, and man could never change that. Skin color was seen as direct evidence of worthiness, in just the way it still is in the Book of Mormon, where people became lighter skinned as they moved closer to God.

For these reasons, many members were shocked when the ban was lifted. I have read multiple accounts of members who left the church and lost their testimonies, believing that an eternal principle had been overthrown by the 1978 revelation. Yet here we are in 2015 recognizing that the ban was not an eternal or immutable law. Since the church has already begun developing a more nuanced view of homosexuality in my lifetime, accepting that it is biologically related and not a choice, it seems possible that they will change their stance on gay marriage at some point, in the same way that they have about interracial marriage. Here are some quotes to illustrate the evolution of their thinking.

From Brigham Young: “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.” Journal of Discourses, Vol.10, p.109

From the first presidency in 1947: “Furthermore, your ideas, as we understand them, appear to contemplate the intermarriage of the Negro and White races, a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now. God’s rule for Israel, His Chosen People, has been endogamous. Modern Israel has been similarly directed. We are not unmindful of the fact that there is a growing tendency, particularly among some educators, as it manifests itself in this are, toward the breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between whites and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine.” Incoming letter from George Albert Smith, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and David O. McKay to Prof. Lowry Nelson, Utah State

From Spencer W. Kimball in 1975: “We are unanimous, all of the Brethren, in feeling and recommending that Indians marry Indians, and Mexicans marry Mexicans; the Chinese marry Chinese and the Japanese marry Japanese; that the Caucasians marry the Caucasians, and the Arabs marry Arabs.” The Marriage Decision

Still in the Aaronic Priesthood manual, updated in 1995: “We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question.

For me, this is sufficient evidence to show that cultural traditions influenced the doctrine of the church concerning interracial marriage. The brethren were not speaking for God when they said these things, but they THOUGHT they were. For me, this clearly demonstrates that the brethren do not always know the difference between revelation and their own preferences, and that they are clearly influenced by the culture around them. So with that in mind, I am forced to ask myself if that situation is being replayed out now with regards to gay marriage? Does the church’s current stance come from God, or does it come from the brethren? I’d like to discuss specifically some of the points that you make, but I should stop here to get your thoughts, so we don’t argue past each other. Do you agree with my interpretation so far?

CES Coordinator: To compare a same sex intimate relationship to a marriage between a man and a woman of different racial background doesn’t hold water for me. Skin color shouldn’t really matter at all, it is gender that matters when it comes to marriage. It is the god-approved union between the two genders that constitutes matrimony.

I don’t know if the purported doctrine that interracial marriage is inherently sinful has ever been proclaimed as official Church doctrine. As I understand it, official Church doctrine must be issued by the First Presidency – with or without the quorum of the Twelve Apostles – as an official statement of doctrine to the Church and/or the world. We have relatively few official Church doctrines, but we have a lot of general authority commentary. “The Father and the Son”, “Official declaration 1” and 2, “The Family – A Proclamation to the World”, “The Living Christ – The Testimony of the Apostles” and perhaps the content of Preach My Gospel, would be in this category. Also this statement on same-sex marriage.

A way to measure truth from error is to view the issue at hand in light of the standard works. President Harold B. Lee taught:

I say that we need to teach our people to find their answers in the scriptures. If only each of us would be wise enough to say that we aren’t able to answer any question unless we can find a doctrinal answer in the scriptures! And if we hear someone teaching something that is contrary to what is in the scriptures, each of us may know whether the things spoken are false—it is as simple as that. But the unfortunate thing is that so many of us are not reading the scriptures. We do not know what is in them, and therefore we speculate about the things that we ought to have found in the scriptures themselves. I think that therein is one of our biggest dangers of today.

When I meet with our missionaries and they ask questions about things pertaining to the temple, I say to them, as I close the discussion, ‘I don’t dare answer any of your questions unless I can find an answer in the standard works or in the authentic declarations of Presidents of the Church.’ The Lord has given us in the standard works the means by which we should measure truth and untruth.” (Teachings of the President Harold B. Lee, Chapter 7)

In the standard works, I cannot find evidence to support the idea that interracial marriage is wrong, only that marriage outside the covenant is wrong. (In many cases in history though, these two, a covenant people and an ethnic group, have been coinciding and this may have lead to this misinterpretation on interracial marriage.)

For example, when Moses married an Ethiopian and was mocked by Aaron and Miriam for doing so, God severely rebuke them and cursed Miriam with leprosy (Numbers 11).

From the Book of Mormon we know that the Lamanites were cursed and marked for their rebellion, but that the mark in some cases left them once they repented, in other cases perhaps not. However, the two peoples, a mix of the descendants of Mulek, Lehi, Zoram and Ishmael, seem to have mixed freely as long as they had the same faith in God. This was the decisive factor, not color. After the coming of Christ to them, there were, “no manner of -ites”.

We know that the Book of Mormon teaches that “God is no respector of persons” and that “all are alike unto him, black and white, male and female, bond and free.” (2 Nephi 26)

There is a huge difference between limiting certain blessings to certain people for certain periods for certain reasons, as in the case with race and the priesthood, and seeking to change the laws God has revealed to the Church. The law of chastity is not just a commandment, or a policy, it is a law, that means it is eternal and immutable, just as the law of the fast, tithing, harvest, justice, mercy and love are. President Kimball said – “when the sun grows cold and the stars no longer shine, the law of chastity will still be basic in God’s world and in the Lord’s church” (see Teachings of the Prophets of the Church, Spencer W. Kimball, Chapter 17)

If we do not look to God for help with these important questions, I am fearful that we will end up in the same way human beings, with our limited understanding, and as elder Holland put it, “often childish grasp of things” often do, and as Joseph Smith referenced from his own time, –

bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions. […]

The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.

In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?

While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. […] At length I came to the conclusion that I must […] ask of God.” (JS-H 1:6, 9-11, 13)

As members of the Church, this is our privilege too, and our obligation, especially in a serious case like this, and especially if we find ourselves at odds with the official and current statements of the First Presidency.

Mike Frost: To say that there is no scriptural foundation for the teachings against interracial marriage is a pretty loose reading. In 2 Nephi 5:21-22, it says:

And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people.

As is clear from the previous quotes I shared, church leaders from the time of Brigham Young took a very firm stance that it was a divine directive not to mix the races. Teachings against interracial marriage were not given as a piece of advice, nor were they based on your mention — without reference — of empirical research that interracial marriages are less successful. It was very openly taught as a doctrine from God, which has since been softened, if not entirely removed.

I have spent years reading Young’s writings and the history of the church on the subject, and it is inescapable to me that Young and the church leaders after him were absolutely wrong with regards to their teachings on the heavenly sanctioned inferiority of blacks. The prophets are men, and as such are fallible. When church leaders began entertaining the idea of granting full fellowship to black members, David O. McKay was very deliberate in speaking about the treatment of black members as lesser as a “practice” rather than a doctrine, an idea that surely would have shocked Brigham Young, which paved the way for Spencer W. Kimball to finally make the change in 1978, fourteen years after the Civil Rights act established legal quality for blacks in the United States.

The church now distances itself from those prior hardline teachings. As the church’s recent essay on Race and the Priesthood makes clear:

“Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

CES Coordinator: I have read that article and also the new introduction to “Official Declaration 2”. It does not say that interracial marriage teachings or restrictions to priesthood were inspired and I didn’t either. I would like to point out though, that we are discussing two race-related questions here that I believe would benefit from being dealt with separately. The teaching that interracial marriage is inherently sinful has been refuted by the Church as incorrect, and I am grateful for that. Whether it was wrong to restrict some members to full access to temple blessings is another question. The Church doesn’t say that it was inspired to do so, but neither does it say that it wasn’t. I cannot judge whether it was or not at the time of Brigham Young, who knows, perhaps it saved some black members from persecution and harm. We can’t really know that. All we know is that President Young held the sealing keys and that he did restrict access to these blessings and certain callings for parts of the membership, though they would be available to them in the eternal perspective on account of their faithfulness. We learn from Joseph Smith as quoted in Preach My Gospel chapter 4: How Do I Recognize and Understand the Spirit:

This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed.”

We have a promise that if we follow the president of the Church, the Lord will bless us for it. Here are two examples of this promise:

The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.” (Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2.), from Excerpts … after OD 1.

President Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency told of an experience he had with President Heber J. Grant, who was President of the Church at the time:

Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.’” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1960, 78), quoted in New Seminary Curriculum, 2014.

Are you familiar with the story about Joseph rebuking Brigham in a large Church meeting without any apparent cause, for about ten minutes? After the rebuke, and still in the middle of the meeting with all those members present and Brigham among them in the congregation, Joseph asked,

Brigham, what do you have to say for yourself? Whereupon Brigham rose up, bowed his head, took off his hat and replied, Joseph, what do you want me to do? Whereupon Joseph ran down with tears from his eyes opening his arms, embracing Brigham and exclaiming, You passed the test, you passed the test!” (quoted in The Empowerment of Humility, General Conference 2003.)

Brigham Young became the next president of the Church. Sometimes we must endure real injustice in this world in order to qualify for higher blessings. It could be the same for black Africans. In the eternal perspective, they are not denied any blessing. This, I believe, would be important to consider, the test, the eternal perspective.

We know that the first shall be the last and the last shall be the first. The revelations state that

a feast of fat things [will] be prepared for the poor; yea, a feast of fat things, of wine on the lees well refined, that the earth may know that the mouths of the prophets shall not fail; Yea, a supper of the house of the Lord, well prepared, unto which all nations shall be invited. First, the rich and the learned, the wise and the noble; And after that cometh the day of my power; then shall the poor, the lame, and the blind, and the deaf, come in unto the marriage of the Lamb, and partake of the supper of the Lord, prepared for the great day to come. Behold, I, the Lord, have spoken it.” (D&C 58:8-12)

For an example of how these verses are interpreted by a contemporary general authority, see Elder Sitati 2009.

Mike Frost: I do not in any way accept the teaching that members of the church should follow the leadership when they are wrong. I’ve heard the anecdotes you’ve shared many times, yet they do not rise to the rule of being doctrine, and actually seem at odds with it. The idea of following church leadership even when they are wrong is contrary to the commandment to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12) and the promise of personal revelation that our church is founded on. I love that the church promotes having a personal relationship with God, and requires members to be anxiously engaged in their own progression. With these teachings salvation is not passive, nor does God excuse anyone to give up their agency in the face of what is right and wrong, just because someone else tells them to. When this kind of obedience is taken to extremes, it leads to terrible outcomes, both inside and outside of the church.

I’m a little surprised that you have so quickly dismissed my comparison of race and sexual orientation. The comparison is valid because both are determined at birth, and cannot be changed. I know that church leaders for a long time have refuted that with regards to sexual orientation, but again, this is an area where they have officially changed their minds.

See Boyd K. Packer in 1976:

There is a falsehood that some are born with an attraction to their own kind, with nothing they can do about it. They are just “that way” and can only yield to those desires. That is a malicious and destructive lie. While it is a convincing idea to some, it is of the devil.

Now a different stance from the church’s official website,

The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them.

The church in the past funded programs and groups that tried to “cure” people of homosexuality (see the electro shock therapy research done at BYU). They have now officially stopped all such practices in recognition of the fact that they do not work. Did this help clarify why I see a corollary between race and homosexuality?

CES Coordinator: I said I would almost feel the comparison is racist (not that you are at all) because the sacred marriage relationship between a man and a woman is not comparable to a same gender relationship, and to equate interracial marriage with homosexual activity, whether supported by law or not, I see as I way to try to justify or normalize immoral activity.

About people being born gay, the Church has not changed its mind on this to the point that it believes that all persons who experience same sex attraction, or who identify as gay, where born with this attraction or born that way and cannot change. I think the comparison to race is not as fitting as it may appear. For example, in some instances, Satan may prompt someone towards a person of the same gender and if that person does not refute such promptings, they may develop a gay identity. Satan would not, on the other hand, be very successful in trying to prompt a person into thinking they are of a different race. As you can see, I believe that there are many reasons why some people experience same sex attraction and I don’t believe all who have that challenge are born like that, but I am not opposed to the idea that some could be. I still believe the law of chastity will never change and that sexual activity is only permitted between man and woman in marriage, one reason being that its primary purpose is to raise up seed unto the Lord.

It may be true that the Church has stopped funding programs that would aspire to help people overcome homosexuality, but I do not believe the Church has stated that such programs do not work for anybody. I’m sure you could get hundreds of people who would testify that it worked for them, but also many who would tell you it didn’t work for them. I think one reason for this is that same sex attraction can have different origins and that some of them can be dealt with and overcome in this life and some not. Those who are not able to establish a traditional family in this short mortal life will receive that blessing and opportunity in the life hereafter, if they cleave unto the covenants and laws God has revealed. Ultimately, we are to become even as God is, each man as the Father and each woman as our Heavenly Mother. No matter our mortal challenges, the atonement will enable all who earnestly and wholeheartedly strive for this to become like Them.

Mike Frost: Here is a very specific example which helps make it clear to me that church doctrine is not yet expansive enough to cover gender and homosexuality. The Proclamation on the Family teaches us that gender is eternal. However, approximately 1 in 2,000 babies born has ambiguous genitalia. This has most often resulted in the parents making a choice to raise the child as a male or female, including following through with some kind of surgery to make the genitalia more specific to the chosen gender. What does the poor individual do that has a “male spirit,” but is raised as a female, or vice versa, due to their parents’ choice? A mismatch of gender and genitalia leads to alarming levels of mental illness in a society that doesn’t understand or accept that this occurs, and the church has nothing in its doctrine about families or sexual practices that offers them any sort of peace.

In the past, when the church taught that homosexuality was a choice, at least it was a consistent position to teach that homosexuality was also a sin. But now that we have accepted that homosexuality is biologically related, it is completely unfair to think of it as also being a sin. In a church with 15 million members, it is certain that there is a significant portion of members who are biologically homosexual, in a way that is no more changeable than is a person’s race. For these members, you can imagine the extraordinary burden that is expected of them by teaching celibacy for homosexuals.

Although I don’t discount the difficulty of being a single member in the church who never finds an appropriate partner, and thus never experiences sexual intimacy, homosexuals carry a different burden than they do. Homosexuals are taught that there is something fundamentally wrong with them, and that they will NEVER experience the kind of intimacy that they desire, in this life or the next. This is a very damaging teaching psychologically, for homosexual members who try again and again to live the recommended lifestyle and fail. I think it would be a preferable outcome to allow them to marry for this life, experience the growth and progression that come from partnering and raising children, and leave the question of what they will do in eternity to God.

CES Coordinator: Here you bring up a specific case of 1 in 2000 babies being born with ambiguous genitalia, something I was aware of (not the exact number) and agree with you, must be an extremely difficult situation for the parents, and, if they make the wrong choice on which biological sex they choose, for the child, if, as you say, a female spirit grow up with a male body. I have looked up this issue, and it seems to be much fewer than the 1:2000 where the condition is such that even an expert does not know which gender would be right, but in 1 of 2000 babies born, an expert is called in to help with this.

If a female spirit in a male body would get married to a woman and have an intimate relationship with her, I believe this is a case where God must be the judge. We know that we are judged according to the knowledge we have. We also know that God understands all of us perfectly and that he is more merciful than we may realize. These challenges for some, however, cannot change the law of chastity as we know it, where the primary purpose of sexual activity between a man and a woman in marriage is to receive children to raise up unto the Lord.

Elder Oaks in a recent broadcast states:

Knowing that “marriage between man and woman is essential to [God’s] eternal plan,” Latter-day Saints persist in the time-honored religious principle that marriage is foremost an institution for the procreation and raising of children.  We also adhere to the proven experience that marriage is the best institution for the economic, political, and moral well-being of the human family.  As President Spencer W. Kimball said many years ago: “We know that when things go wrong in the family, things go wrong in every other institution in society.” We reject the modern idea that marriage is a relationship that exists primarily for the fulfillment of the individuals who enter into it, with either one of them being able to terminate it at will.  We focus on the well-being of children, not just ourselves.  Our Church Handbook explains: “By divine design, both a man and a woman are essential for bringing children into mortality and providing the best setting for the rearing and nurturing of children.” (“As He Thinketh in His Heart”, 2013)

I have not seen the Church saying that homosexuality is always biologically related, meaning, you are born that way. As mentioned, there can be several factors causing same sex attraction. Also, as you mention another place, it is not classified as a sin to experience these attractions, but acting on them is (by engaging in same sex sexual activity).

The example of ambiguous genitalia should not necessarily lead to a concern about suicide among homosexuals in general. I would not think that the teaching that it is not sinful to experience these attractions would be so disturbing to those who do, but rather comforting. There may be a lot of prejudice and misconceptions among people around this issue, but I would think anyone who believes in God and the Church doctrines, covenants and ordinances would find strength in that, comfort through the holy ghost, strength through the atonement and hope in the eternal promises to the faithful and in the power of repentance. The problem for many of us is that we do not know or understand the doctrines of the plan of salvation or the atonement well enough. As brothers and sisters, parents, leaders and friends, we have an important responsibility to help any person struggling with these feelings or experiences by offering our love and succor and help them find strength in the Savior and His teachings.

Some people are handicapped or challenged in other ways that leads to a lack of intimate companionship and bearing of children in this short life. But anyone can endure the challenges of life through a knowledge of the eternal plan of salvation and the atonement. Because of the atonement, everything that is unfair about life is made right (Preach My Gospel, Lesson 2). In the hereafter, our mortal existence will appear as a blink of an eye and there, eternal promises and rewards are fulfilled and available to the faithful. For these people as for all of us the important thing is to obtain “a name better than of sons and of daughters” (Isaiah 56:5), as one man, Ty, with powerful same gender persuasions found, as the Lord spoke to him through a verse in Isaiah, referred to by a gospel teacher. I believe this reference in context is relevant to our conversation:

[L]et [not] the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.

I love how those who may not have children in this life, if they are faithful to the laws and covenants of God, receive eternal promises and power in the temple. Here is an excerpt from Ty’s story, published on

You know, I was in a couple of different relationships with people that I really cared about. And it was interesting because I felt more emotionally alive but I also felt a loss of light, and that was clear to me during that time. It was a slow decrease in light but I noticed it. At one point, I was feeling very, very distant, probably as far from God as I had ever felt, and I had this very strong spiritual experience, kind of a mystical experience, where I was almost being enveloped in this feeling of love. There was nothing in that that was ‘what you’re doing is right, what you’re doing is wrong’ it was just this feeling of ‘I love you.’ And I felt like God knew me, that he remembered me. And I needed that more than anything. Again, it wasn’t an affirmation, it wasn’t a rebuke, it was just ‘I love you.’ And so I continued just trying to move forward trying to find reconciliation, to be in places, I mean I kept attending church, and just to try to be in places where I thought the spirit could be present, to teach me. I kept trying to learn, and to read, and I kept trying to figure things out and at one point I was in a kind of a devotional address and the instructor was talking about Isaiah, “But if you take hold of the covenant, you shall have a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters.” And as he was talking about this verse, I just had again like this very powerful spiritual experience, that my place was in the Church, that’s where I needed to be. It was a very clear communication that whether you get married in this life or the next is of no matter, just stay with me. Stay with me. If you take life a day at a time, continuing to seek and cultivate the spirit in your life, every blessing that can be had will be yours. Just trust. That’s what I did and at that point, I resolved myself that I was going to get my life back in order. And I was able to totally release myself from cultural expectation. Like from now on, I was doing this journey in the Church, but this was between me and God.

Ty experienced a diminishing of light as he departed from living Church doctrines, and and this helped him to get back on the strait and narrow path again. Paul teaches that, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14) This is something we all should be aware of. The Spirit is the key. I read a great conference talk from World War II where the president of the church said that the church would never ask someone to not follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost. I find great peace in that promise and in the Spirit. We know the three act play of life, we can seek guidance from the Spirit. The devil loves complexity, he loves to remove us from the three act thinking and limit our perspective to this mortal life alone, and he wants us to use reason alone without the aid of the Spirit as we seek to understand the difficulties in life. Of course we should think, ponder, learn, study, listen, but also fast, pray and seek to be at one with God. Then I believe we will know where we stand in the world and our standing before the Lord.

Mike Frost: Ty’s story for me is a great example of how painful and challenging this is for gay mormons, and I’m pleased to see church leadership coming around to a more nuanced view. Church members, especially gay members and their loved ones, are not looking for complexity on the topic, they’re looking for consistency and clarity. I would put forward the proposal that any gay member of the church is going to feel near constant anguish about their desires, simply because of what the church has taught them. This makes it fruitless to use “closeness to the spirit” as a measure of whether or not a gay member in a same-sex relationship is acting contrary to God’s wishes. How could they possible tell the difference between feeling bad because they are going against cultural teachings, and feeling bad because they are going against God’s wishes?

I do not feel the spirit at all with regards to the church’s teachings concerning homosexuality, and I am happy to take the stance that I need not follow church leadership when they are at odds with my conscience. Elder Christoffeson recently made it clear that church members can support gay marriage online, which is a step in the right direction, after having required members in California to support Proposition 8 just a few years ago.

The need for intimacy is not only, or even primarily, about having children. Again, a couple of quotes that demonstrate this: Parley P. Pratt, quoted in the Eternal Marriage student manual:

Our natural affections are planted in us by the Spirit of God, for a wise purpose; and they are the very main-springs of life and happiness—they are the cement of all virtuous and heavenly society—they are the essence of charity, or love; … “There is not a more pure and holy principle in existence than the affection which glows in the bosom of a virtuous man for his companion; …

Joseph F. Smith, quoted in the Eternal Marriage student manual:

The lawful association of the sexes is ordained of God, not only as the sole means of race perpetuation, but for the development of the higher faculties and nobler traits of human nature.

Imagine the pain it causes gay members of the church to have every urge to connect and have a family, as the church so strongly stresses from a young age, and then tell them that they must live a celibate life. For me, the idea of celibacy does not fill me with the spirit or with good feelings. My heart aches for gay members of the church, the same way that my heart aches for black members of the church who wanted nothing more than to experience the fullness of temple blessings and priesthood power, but were denied them for cultural reasons.

CES Coordinator: Please re-read the part of Ty’s story that I quoted above. Of course it is challenging, but Ty noticed a gradual loss of spiritual light as he pursued that lifestyle. It lead him to feel farther away from God than he had ever felt before. He wanted to feel the Spirit again and to be with God, and as he made the decision change his life and come back to God, he felt closer to Him again and was greatly blessed.

Sometimes, compassion, such a valuable human virtue, can mislead us. For example, Elder McConkie explained that when the Son passed through the Atonement, the Father fled to the uttermost corner of the universe and asked the angels to hold Him back because He so wanted to intervene. Another example to consider is that of the Ammonites who where nigh unto breaking their covenant with God because of compassion:

But in the twenty and sixth year, when [the Ammonites] saw our [the Nephites’] afflictions and our tribulations for them, they were about to break the covenant which they had made and take up their weapons of war in our defence. But I [Helaman] would not suffer them that they should break this covenant which they had made, supposing that God would strengthen us, insomuch that we should not suffer more because of the fulfilling the oath which they had taken [to never take up arms or shed blood again].” (Alma 56:7-8)

Faithfulness to the covenants and laws will lead to ultimate happiness.

We are not teaching that celibacy is the ideal, but we are teaching the law of chastity. Sometimes and for thousands of people, this means that they will not experience sexual intimacy in mortaliy. God will bless them for their faithfulness to the law. It is always better and brings more peace and joy to live these laws than to violate them. I love to be taught and to observe the Christ-like character of people such as mother Theresa or Sister Barbara Thompson, Second Counselor, General Relief Society Presidency 2007–2012. They have learnt something many of us develop through marriage and family life, to be unselfish and dedicate one’s life to the service of others with pure love and compassion. They have also learnt to lean upon the Lord for strength to endure life’s challenges, something we all need to learn and which will ultimately enable us to become co-heirs with Christ. See one of Sister Thompson’s wonderful talks here.

Mike Frost: Again, I reject the teaching that compassion, or as Elder Packer calls it derisively, tolerance, leads us astray. My understanding of the gospel as taught by Jesus Christ is that our highest duty is to love our fellow man. We are taught over and over again to develop the pure love of Christ. As Elder Uchtdorf recently put it:

Love is the power that initiates friendship, tolerance, civility, and respect. It is the source that overcomes divisiveness and hate. Love is the fire that warms our lives with unparalleled joy and divine hope. Love should be our walk and our talk.

I would far rather find myself in a circumstance of explaining to God that I loved too much, than that I unwisely followed intolerant and cultural teachings simply because I was told to.

Your repeated reference to chastity leads back to my concern — are the church’s current teachings about homosexuality inspired or cultural? Are they similar to the now discarded teachings about birth control and the inferiority of blacks?

Will a gay person grow and learn more in this life by marrying and having a family, or by being celibate? Which is more likely to give them the earthly experience that helps to develop into the kind of person that is prepared to have a family in the celestial kingdom? Even if you accept that their homosexuality is not ideal, what of our other commandments is singled out in such a way that we either do it perfectly, or we don’t do it at all?

CES Coordinator: I believe the law of chastity is an eternal law and obedience to that law is key to a fullness of salvation. Obedience to the law of chastity will always be better for the development of the human spirit and for preparing a person for life hereafter than not obeying it. Single persons, as far as I am aware, may be eligible to adopt and of course to care for children around them, to be part of an extended family. It is more important to keep the law of chastity than to have a sexually intimate relationship with someone. But here again God is the source of all truth and ultimately the one who can give you an answer to that question.

Mike Frost: So where does celibacy fit into the law of chastity? I think you are using an expansive definition of chastity, which is not necessarily encompassing of homosexuality. The law of chastity is that God commands that sexual intimacy only take place inside of marriage. So why not support laws that would allow homosexuals to marry, so that they have the opportunity to live the law of chastity just like other members? The question of whether or not this relationship can continue in the eternities is moot if we are talking about state-sanctioned marriage. After all, aren’t all marriages outside of the temple meant for this life only?

CES Coordinator: I see your point, but the law of chastity specifies that sexual relations are only appropriate between a man and a woman in marriage. The Family – A Proclamation to the World states:

We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

If you feel differently about this than what is proclaimed there, this is a serious thing and something I believe you should discuss with your bishop. Please seek an answer from God. You know how that is done. Fasting, prayer, humility, service, pondering – perhaps you would want to go to the temple with this question. We are told that often when members struggle with difficult questions, they receive an answer as they go to the temple. But again, I think this is something you should discuss with the bishop and receive his counsel on.

I have approached this with an open mind and come to God asking for His direction on the subject. One of the answers that came to happened and was as follows. I prayerfully opened the scriptures with faith that whatever I turned to would be an instruction to me from God. The very first verse my eyes fell on was this:

For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine

I was brought to understand that homosexual behavior, in any form, is contrary to sound doctrine. This made a strong impression on me, because in my assignment, one of my responsibilities is to do all I can to teach sound doctrine and to try to make sure that other teachers in the seminaries and institutes also only teach sound doctrine. I have learned from Elder Bednar that spiritual understanding occurs when the Holy Ghost confirms to your heart something to be true.

Next, I looked at the verse more in context:

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope; unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.

One of the things I learned from reading these verses too was that the commandments God has given, including the law of chastity, are given precisely to help us avoid behaviors that are not good even though we may be drawn to engage in them. This is perhaps why the law of chastity is so explicit: “The sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.” (“The Family – A Proclamation to the World”, also quoted in For the Strength of Youth).

From True to the Faith, we are taught that, “homosexual activity is a serious sin. It is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality (see Romans 1:24-32). It distorts loving relationships and prevents people from receiving the blessings that can be found in family life and the saving ordinances of the gospel.” Peter was told to not call something common that God has cleansed (Acts 10:15). Similarly, we cannot make homosexual activity right just by calling it a marriage.

Another thing to consider is that entire sessions of general conference are full of powerful teachings on the importance of traditional marriage and family. I believe the prophets long ago, and certainly by 1995 have seen what would come a few years a head. The movement to normalize, condone or even encourage and celebrate homosexual behavior, and to equate it in stature and worth with traditional marriage, effects a change in society’s view on sexuality, family and other important values to such an extent that the prophetic warning that there will be a “disintegration of the family” seem very appropriate and alarming.

We learn that human beings, “[w]hen they are learned […] think they are wise, and […] hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” (2 Ne 9:28-29).

I experience that the counsels of God is richly proclaimed, and more clearly so, by the appointed leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, than anywhere else. And I feel the Spirit testify so powerfully, and my heart is moved and touched so deeply as I hear the sound doctrine of the family proclaimed in word, song or deed. Just consider the beautiful song The Family is of God which sets forth the divine roles of men and women in marriage.

Mike Frost: I grant you that it is possible to select scriptures that support the idea that homosexuality is as you have described it. Of course, it is possible to also use the writings of Paul to justify slavery (Ephesians 6:5), the subjugation of women (1 Corinthians 14:34-35), and the idea that marriage itself is not worthwhile (1 Corinthians 7:7-9). Indeed, many churches, including ours, have used these scriptures in the past to excuse all kinds of ugly behavior that we no longer condone. Since I understand that you do not adopt any of these positions from Paul, then it seems you agree with me that there are cultural teachings found in the scriptures that are not doctrinal. My point is that it is the duty of anyone trying to follow Christ to examine ALL of their beliefs with this same critical lens, and try to root out cultural teachings that don’t deserve the status of doctrine. It is my contention that the teaching that homosexuality is a choice, a sin, or inferior fits into this category.

Using your earlier reference to life as a “three act play”, it would be valuable to think about what current church teachings mean for gay members of the church. As just one example, there are clear challenges that an eternally gendered person from the pre-earth life could end up in the wrong type of body in this life. And by teaching a commandment of celibacy, gay members are prevented from experiencing marriage and child rearing in this life, precluding them from being prepared for the next life.

I do speak often with my bishops and other church members about any and all questions I have. That said, I recognize that the bishop is in a particular position requiring absolute support for official church policies, something that is not required of me as a typical member. Had I asked my bishop in 1977 about the priesthood ban, he would have given me an answer in keeping with then current church policy which would have been outdated the following year.

I find it interesting that you are sure your good feelings about your stance come from the spirit, whereas my good feelings and “compassion” lead me to have a “childish grasp of things”. It’s hard to have a constructive dialogue that way, but I do thank you for being willing to engage.