Mormon social media over the last week has been buzzing about a forum on the topic of same-gender attraction sponsored by the Sociology department at Brigham Young University and a group called USGA (Understanding Same-Gender Attraction) as well as a series of videos released by the USGA called “It Gets Better… at BYU“.
The USGA is not an officially approved university organization and the words “It Gets Better” are taken from a national, non-LDS organization, the goals of which are not all compatible with the teachings of the church.
I have many friends who have linked approvingly to reports of the forum and the videos on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. Like them, I support efforts to help members of the LDS church understand the heavy burdens and loneliness experienced by those members of the church who have same-gender attraction, and to extend their love and support to them. They need to know that God loves them. They have so much to contribute to their families, their communities, their schools, and the church. They need our love and support.
The “It Gets Better … at BYU” videos are generally positive and the participants are courageous. I have watched most of them. My quibble is that when they say that it is okay to be “gay” they are ambiguous about whether they mean that it is okay to have same-sex attraction or whether they mean that it is okay to act on the attraction and give in to the temptation.
I understand that their intended audience consists of those same-sex attracted BYU students and church members who feel all alone and have contemplated suicide and need to feel love, hope, and acceptance. I support that.
But when you release a video publicly on the internet you don’t get to select the audience. It doesn’t matter who you intended as your audience, with a topic like this it is automatically going to extend to members of the church at large, the media, and critics of the church. So while for the intended audience it may have been unnecessary to spell out the line between being same-sex attracted and acting on it contrary to the church, for the unintentional audience it would have been very helpful.
I suspect that many members of the church who would otherwise enthusiastically support and promote the “It Gets Better … at BYU” videos hesitate because of the ambiguity. If the videos were to simply add a short statement that “you can find happiness in complying with the commandments and directions of the Lord through his prophets” or something about “finding peace through Jesus Christ and his Church” then we wouldn’t feel so trapped between trying to love and support our same-sex attracted brothers and sisters and upholding the correct doctrines of the church.
Unfortunately reports of the forum, also sponsored by the USGA, indicate that while the students who participated in the forum were all perfectly willing to abide by the university’s “honor code” while they were students, which prohibits acting upon same-sex attraction in compliance to the teachings of the LDS church, some of them also indicated that once they leave the university they fully intend to pursue same-sex relationships in defiance of the church. That gives the impression that the videos could have been purposefully ambiguous.
My inclination is to believe that the ambiguity of the videos represents a miscalculation about audience on the part of the group and not an intentional message. But I urge them to actively disambiguate their message and intention.
I highly recommend two blogs by faithful members of the LDS church who are same-sex attracted and believe in and comply with the teachings of the church about homosexuality:
Both of these brothers are wonderful, honest examples of the struggle to be faithful with same-sex attraction. Both of them have also written about the USGA Forum and Videos which I have been discussing here. I encourage you to consider their thoughts on the subject as well:
From Mormon Guy:
It Gets Better … at BYU (A changed view from the original)
From Obadiah (who was present at the forum, but not a participant):
I have never had same-sex attraction, so I don’t know what that is like. But I do know what it is like to be bullied because you are different. Growing up, I didn’t have a strong interest in sports, popular music, or dating. I didn’t go to dances. I didn’t actively date or flirt with girls through all of high school or my freshman year at BYU. I didn’t even have any close friends who were girls. It wasn’t until after I had served an LDS mission that I began to date. I didn’t kiss a girl or have a girlfriend until I was almost 23 years old. I married just before I turned 24. There were people who probably thought I was gay. I had certainly been treated that way by bullies from time to time. I knew I was interested in girls, but nobody else knew that.
Homosexuality can be congenital. But I think that it is a mistake to conclude that therefore all homosexuality is congenital or that biological configuration is the only factor. I suspect that for many homosexuals it is a combination of factors, and the influence of one factor over another is going to be different for each individual. Abuse, societal pressure, influence by other homosexuals, and sin, as well as biological predisposition can all be factors.
Because it is multifaceted and individualized, many people who are same-sex attracted may never be able to change in this life, while others may have a great deal of success at changing. For one individual, biology may be a primary factor. For another, abuse may be the primary factor. They all need love. But we do them a disservice when we assume that it can only caused by being “born that way” and that the cause is the same for everyone.
Increasingly I’ve seen people use the phrase “God made them that way” or ‘God made me Homosexual.” Even if it were true that all homosexuality is 100% biological and unchangeable, we cannot logically conclude that “God made them homosexuals.” From a Christian perspective, the imperfections in the world are part of the Fall. Biological predispositions toward any behavior do not mean that God approves of that behavior.
Because of the Fall, we are all born with biological imperfections that influence our desires and our behaviors (the “natural man”). At best we can conclude that God allows a fallen world in which people may be born with biological imperfections and that he does so to accomplish a greater good. And He loves all of us, even with our imperfections. But we cannot conclude that the imperfections are actually the ideal and should be embraced. Instead they must be endured. We all need the grace of Jesus Christ as we endure our individualized imperfections and trials, looking forward with hope to the resurrection.