Dear 100 Hour Board,
I am in a religion class and the topic of homosexuality/bi/gay/lesbian/somewhere-in-between came up. There were a lot of responses (some of them heated) on every side of the spectrum. Some said that being gay (for this question let's define "being gay" as being attracted to a person of the same sex) was not a sin but that ACTING on it was. Others said that repentance can take away the "gay" feelings. One common consensus that seemed to be reached was that acting on a gay feeling (again, a little ambiguous, does acting on a gay attraction mean flirting, kissing, holding hands, or only full on sex, etc?) is a sin. I am a very logical person and anytime sexuality seems to come up there are intense emotions and certainly real hurt that people have experienced, I do not intend to open up any wounds.
Everyone in the room agreed though that consistent desire to do something wrong (murder, sexually abuse a child, commit adultery, lie, steal) was something that could be changed UNTIL it came to sexuality. I have trouble accepting that. We often hear how people's desires change from repentance, why is sexual desire not included in this? This will certainly seem inflammatory rhetoric, but it is just a logical substitution. If someone who struggled with pedophilia "came out" would anyone say, "You are perfect the way you are. You don't need to change anything. You need to find other pedophiles to hang around and whether or not you decide to act on it is a beautiful decision that you need to make without anyone making you feel guilty".
In response to one post on this board, the writer said that someone who was struggling with pornography/masturbation should just focus one day at a time to stop it. I thought they were going to extend this same advice to being gay (a desire that can lead to sin) but they didn't.
;tldr Why is homosexuality given special treatment when many LDS people agree that "acting on it" is a sin?
I'm not trying to prove a point but am trying to understand better.
If you are going to answer from an LDS perspective please use quotes from church authorities. I hear opinions all day long.
-Being Gay is okay but acting on it is a sin?
The thing about LGBT issues in the Church is that almost any question that starts with "why" usually doesn't have an answer. Sure, you'll find 30-year-old quotes from General Authorities that have since been retracted, or you'll find a Seventy who gave his personal opinion at some fireside or other, and you'll get a lot of folk doctrine that's been repeated often enough that a lot of members assume it has a doctrinal basis. But in terms of actual, First-Presidency-Approved doctrine, there really isn't much.
However, the idea that experiencing same-sex attraction, or identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc., is okay, but acting on it is a sin is the official current stance of the Church. Frankly, I'm surprised and disappointed that the professor didn't step in to clarify this, because misconceptions surrounding that stance contribute to a huge amount of issues that can make Church congregations unwelcoming places for LGBT members. Here are some quotes that back that up:
People can make their own choices about how to identify. There are active, temple recommend–holding Church members who comply with the law of chastity and identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. There are active Church members who experience same-sex attraction and never choose to identify themselves using a label. Our primary identity will always be as a child of God.
-"About Sexual Orientation," Mormon and Gay official Church website
The intensity of same-sex attraction is not a measure of your faithfulness. Many people pray for years and do all they can to be obedient in an effort to reduce same-sex attraction, yet find they are still attracted to the same sex. Same-sex attraction is experienced along a spectrum of intensity and is not the same for everyone. Some are attracted to both genders, and others are attracted exclusively to the same gender. For some, feelings of same-sex attraction, or at least the intensity of those feelings, may diminish over time. In any case, a change in attraction should not be expected or demanded as an outcome by parents or leaders.
-"Frequently Asked Questions," Mormon and Gay official Church website
The individual has the right to determine desired outcomes, and therapists and counselors should respect his or her wishes.
For someone who experiences same-sex attraction or identifies as gay, counseling may help the person approach his or her sexuality in healthier, more fulfilling ways. However, counseling and therapy are not needed by everyone.
While shifts in sexuality can and do occur for some people, it is unethical to focus professional treatment on an assumption that a change in sexual orientation will or must occur. Again, the individual has the right to define the desired outcome.
-"Seeking Professional Help," Mormon and Gay official Church website
The Church does not take a position on the cause of same-sex attraction. In 2006, Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated:
“The Church does not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction” (Interview With Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman: “Same-Gender Attraction”, 2006).
Feelings of same-sex attraction are not a sin. Elder M. Russell Ballard stated:
“Let us be clear: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that ‘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. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including [those with same-sex attraction]’” (“The Lord Needs You Now!” Ensign, Sept. 2015, 29).
While same-sex attraction is not a sin, it can be a challenge. While one may not have chosen to have these feelings, he or she can commit to keep God’s commandments. The parent of a child who experiences same-sex attraction or identifies as gay should choose to love and embrace that child. As a community of Church members, we should choose to create a welcoming community.
-"Church Teachings," Mormon and Gay official Church website
If members feel same-gender attraction but do not engage in any homosexual behavior, leaders should support and encourage them in their resolve to live the law of chastity and to control unrighteous thoughts. These members may receive Church callings. If they are worthy and qualified in every other way, they may also hold temple recommends and receive temple ordinances.
-Handbook 2: Administering the Church, 21.4.6
If one experiences same-sex attraction, he or she can choose whether to use a sexual identity label. Identifying oneself as gay or lesbian is not against Church policy or doctrine; however, it may have undesired consequences in the way one is treated. No true follower of Christ is justified in withholding love because you decide to identify in this way.
-"Who Am I," Mormon and Gay official Church website
I speak of a young man who entered the mission field worthily but by his own choice returned home early due to same-sex attraction and some trauma he experienced in that regard. He was still worthy, but his faith was at crisis level, his emotional burden grew ever heavier, and his spiritual pain was more and more profound. He was by turns hurt, confused, angry, and desolate. [...] This son’s sexual orientation did not somehow miraculously change—no one assumed it would. But little by little, his heart changed.
-"Behold Thy Mother," Oct 2015 Conference, Elder Holland
As far as that last quote goes, I think it's important to emphasize that within the context of the talk, the son's heart changing refers to his pain and bitterness being taken away; not to him attempting to "repent" of his sexual orientation.
I'd like to echo Ardilla's comment below that thanks you for asking this question and trying to understand better. However, I also feel the need to explain to you why your question has offended some of us.
I'm bisexual, and I'm pretty open about that fact. When I encounter people with opinions such as your own, it makes me feel as though other members of the Church are judging me and assuming that I'm less righteous, not trying hard enough to "repent" of something that Church leaders have assured me I don't need to repent of, or that I'm not exercising enough faith in the Atonement. It feels as though you're questioning my personal relationship with my Savior and my commitment to live the gospel to the best of my ability. It feels as though members of the Church will see me as inherently sinful as long as I'm open about my sexuality. Comparing my sexuality to pedophilia, or saying that I'm receiving "special treatment" because I'm not asked to repent of a basic part of who I am, is hurtful. Saying that being attracted to women is like wanting to murder someone or cheat on my husband is hurtful.
I know a lot of LGB people who have prayed about their sexuality and received the answer that there is nothing "wrong" with them, that God does not expect them to change or "overcome" their attractions, and that they are this way for a reason. We may not understand what that reason is, but simply experiencing same-sex attraction is not a sinful desire in the same way that desiring to murder, cheat, or steal is. For one thing, there's a huge difference between thinking "I find that girl attractive" and "I want to have sex with that girl." When I find another guy attractive, that doesn't mean that I want to have sex with him or that I am considering cheating on my husband with him. If it did, that would definitely be something to repent of. But just appreciating how attractive Chris Hemsworth is isn't a "sinful desire" that I need to repent of. Similarly, appreciating how attractive Anna Kendrick is isn't any more against the commandments for me. Noticing that another guy in my ward is attractive and noticing that another girl in my ward is attractive are equally non-sins. If I started flirting with them, fantasizing about them, or wanting to cheat on Dr. Occam with them, that would be a sin and would definitely be something to repent of. But the gender of the person I find attractive doesn't suddenly move attraction from the non-sin to sin category.
Hopefully that clears some things up for you. Feel free to ask another question if anything here leads to follow-up questions.
This site produced and run BY THE CHURCH might help you understand the answer to your question and be a bit less judgmental of others.
Like you, I am a very logical person, and can see where you're coming from. I agree that it doesn't make sense to say sexual desire isn't sinful if acting on it is. However, there are some important distinctions to be made. First, let's look at what sexual desire is, and what makes it sinful. In Matthew 5:28, it specifically states that to look after another person to "lust after" them is sinful. Note that what Matthew is referring to is sexual desire, specifically in the context of taking place outside of marriage. After all, acting on sexual desire within marriage* isn't sinful at all. God's first commandment to Adam and Eve was literally to act on their sexual desire.
So far we have established that whether or not sexual desire is sinful depends on whether or not two people are married to each other, in other words, on whether acting on that sexual desire is sinful. Which brings us back to your question: why it's not considered sinful for gay people to have sexual desires as long as they don't act on them. If we're referring to the kind of sexual desire outlined in Matthew, the answer is that it is considered sinful. This brings us to the next very important distinction. Being gay refers to sexual orientation, and doesn't imply that gay people constantly have active sexual desires. Sexual orientation is not inherently sinful in any sort of context.
To illustrate the distinction between sexual desire and sexual orientation, consider a straight man who has been married in the temple. Being married doesn't change his sexual orientation; he is still attracted to members of the opposite sex apart from his wife. However, because he has entered into a covenant to be faithful to his wife, he makes the choice not to sexually desire other women. Thus there is nothing inherently sinful about his conduct in this matter despite the fact he finds other women attractive. If he had desires to have sex out of marriage, then those desires would be sinful, and he would have to change them in order to be clean before God.
Likewise, it is not sinful for someone to be attracted to members of the same sex. If it was, that would imply any kind of human sexuality (or sexual orientation) outside of marriage was sinful, which it's not.
It is sort of clunky, and logically misleading for people to say acting on being gay is fine, when what they really mean is that acting on sexual desires (which is wrong any time outside of marriage) is sinful. However, now you can rest assured of the underlying logic as to why just being gay isn't sinful, and thus isn't something that people need to encourage changing.
*Note that marriage in this context isn't the legal version: it's God's decreed law as only being between and man and a woman.
I feel like there are some strong opinions being expressed here, which is the prerogative of the other writers who are responding. My prerogative is just that I wanted to tell you thanks for stopping by and being willing to ask us this question. I don't think you mean to be antagonistic at at all by asking it, and thanks for being upfront and honest with us. I hope you will understand I am being upfront and honest with you when I say I hope you stop by the Board again.