No newspaper article can ever fully represent the views and feelings of the organizations discussed in them, so it should come as no surprise that I have a mixed reaction to the article in the Salt Lake Tribune this morning about us at North Star combining with Evergreen.
You can read North Star and Evergreen’s official discussion of this issue in our press release here. I want to make clear that the thoughts offered here are mine and mine alone, and do not represent the official views of either North Star or Evergreen organizations, which can be found at the press release. But since I am quoted in the article, I thought I would add some personal reactions and thoughts of my own. One of the wonderful things about the Internet age is that we can now all buy (virtual) ink by the barrel.
Pressure to marry?
The article mentions that both Ty (our new President) and myself (Chairman) are married, and raises concerns that there will be a “shift” in our focus and increased pressure on members to get married. We both certainly hope not. One of the things I told Ms. Stack is that I received plenty of pressure and insensitive comments until I got married shortly before my 34th birthday.
We are certainly not trying to send any sort of message by having our new President be married. As someone who served on the search committee for the new President, I can say that there were several candidates who have the gospel faith as well as the necessary skills who would have made excellent Presidents, even though I also have no doubt that Ty is the right person for the position at this time.
Many, many single people have contributed their time, talents and means to North Star. I am thinking of the single people who have contributed their voices to our Voices of Hope project, some of the more recent ones are Levi Strasser, Stu Back, Jamie Duston, Steve Riegler, and Joe Tanner, all fine people and wonderful examples to me, as has been my friend Jimmy Merrell, who served with me on the last executive committee for several years.
Voices of Hope
What didn’t say to Ms. Stack, but wish I had, was that the Voices of Hope project really does reflect the heart and soul of what we are trying to do at North Star, more than the marital status of the current, for a limited time, Chairman and President of North Star. Our Voices of Hope voices are broader, and more permanent, than the leadership positions various individuals may hold at various times.
Voices of Hope is where you will find the fullerst range of what North Star aspires to be. We have a wide diversity of voices and experiences that we’ve tried to capture there, and are continually seeking to expand. We want to show the world all the different ways people have found to remain faithful to their gospel covenants. I feel that Voices of Hope has done a wonderful job with that, and I hope it continues, even though we’re only about 4% of the way to our goal of one thousand voices. We have already gathered a “great cloud of witnesses” which can help lift our burdens and build up a vast arsenal of faith.
Other valuable voices
I don’t want to leave out those people who have not been so public with their voice and testimony, and yet who have still managed to contribute to North Star in countless but more quiet ways. Though maybe not as obvious as some of our more public members, these peoples’ contribution has been no less important.
While there are several initiatives and programs we will be bringing over from Evergreen, I am most excited, as I said in the press release, about the many, many fine people of Evergreen who will be working with us even more closely, whether formally or informally. That includes Preston Dahlgren (you can watch his Voices of Hope video here), the former Chairman of Evergreen who is now serving with me on North Star’s Board of Directors, as well as Dave Pruden, longtime Executive Director of Evergreen.
A Diversity of Perspectives
I can wholeheartedly endorse what Brother Ferre when he said we should recognize that “diverse experiences and different voices require different responses. We need to respect individuals and their personal discovery of the response that would most benefit them.”
With the added strength of Evergreen’s people, experience, and initiatives, along with the internal growth we’ve undergone, North Star is better positioned than ever to support Latter-day Saints affected by the issue of same sex attraction. I’m excited to see what the new year will bring.
Here are a couple of other points that people may be wondering about after reading the Tribune article (or other commentary) on this matter. I’ve put them in FAQ format below.
Is marriage a “cure”? Can sexual orientation change? What about change in general?
While I was single for a long time, I credit the things I learned and the people I met through Evergreen as a key part of my becoming ready to get married. I don’t claim that my homosexual attractions are eliminated, though I have personally experienced their diminishment and them becoming more manageable. Some of that shift I credit to the concepts I was first introduced to through my affiliation with Evergreen.
I recognize that other people have had more negative experiences from their time with Evergreen. And that’s okay too. We have tried to acknowledge and respect that perspective in our official press release, but as this blog post is my personal feelings, I wanted to include my personal experience with Evergreen, without trying to claim that my experience was or should be the universal one.
Neither North Star or Evergreen has ever had an official “program” for changing sexual orientation. And I’ve never felt that such change is even necessary in order to be a good and faithful Latter-day Saint. Furthermore, I have friends I have met through Evergreen and North Star, who have made great growth and progress in their lives, and remained faithful to the gospel, and yet remain single.
So I emphatically believe (and I said this to Ms. Stack) that the most important change we can all undertake is not a change in sexual orientation, but change as mediated by Jesus Christ. That change can manifest in many different ways, and it may or may not include marriage in this life, but that is the kind of change we want to promote at North Star.
Is North Star an “Ex Gay” Organization?
No. We do not claim that you have to eliminate homosexual attractions in order to be happy or healthy person or a faithful Latter-day Saint. While I know people who claim to have eliminated their attractions entirely, that is not how I describe myself, nor has it been a particular goal of mine since I dealt with my shame around my same sex attraction. And I am not aware of anyone in the North Star leadership, past or present, who describes him- or herself as “ex gay”.
Does North Star advocate reparative therapy?
No. We certainly respect the right of our members to self-determination, so if our members want to seek that therapy out and find it helpful, we want them to continue to have that ability. So you could say we “advocate” for the ability of people to seek that kind of therapy, so long as it is freely chosen, appropriately understood, and ethically conducted.
However, that emphatically does not mean that we think that kind of therapy is helpful or effective for everyone. That’s what we mean when we say we don’t recommend or endorse reparative (or any other form of therapy) for this issue. We want to help people make the most informed choices possible, and provide to them the broadest possible range of gospel-consistent responses to this issue. While that range may include some forms of SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts) therapy, as well as other forms of therapy, it will not be limited to that either. Here is one of our official statements on “reparative therapy”, and here is another more extensive discussion of the same issue.
Again, the Voices of Hope project is a good example of this. If you watch the videos, you will find an incredibly broad range of responses people have had to this issue. We want our members to be able to talk about what they find personally helpful in all our discussion forums, as the people featured in our Voices of Hope video do.
If that includes “reparative therapy”, however that’s defined, no problem. If that does not include reparative therapy, that’s fine too. We want to constructively focus on positive and healthy responses to the challenges that sometimes accompany this issue, as Ty said in the Tribune article.
Is North Star a political organization?
No. While I have made my personal views known on both gay marriage and SOCE therapy, those are my personal opinions and emphatically are not meant to represent the official opinions of North Star. Not all the leaders of North Star agree with everything I said in these areas.
While North Star supports the Church and sustains and upholds its leaders and doctrines, including its teachings on marriage and family, we are a ministerial organization that seeks to support and uplift those affected by this issue. We are neither a public advocacy (political) organization nor a therapeutic organization. See this section of our website for (some of) our official comments on therapy and politics.
Does the timing of Evergreen’s Combining with North Star have anything to do with the dissolution of Exodus or the Church purportedly “withdrawing” its support from Evergreen?
No and no.
The timing came out of discussions conducted within each of our organizations about our respective future goals and desired growth over the past year. The timing or reasoning had nothing to do with any external parties from North Star or Evergreen, whether that be the Church or other organizations dealing with same sex attraction.
Additionally, regarding the comment about “stepping on toes”, I think Ms. Stack may have mangled in my comments to her (or perhaps I didn’t speak as clearly as I could). What I was trying to convey was that with both organizations growing and changing, we were having a more difficult time explaining the distinctions between our two organizations, and we were having to work harder to avoid stepping on each others toes.
I don’t know that we ever have stepped on each others’ toes, but out of these discussions about each of our organizations’ futures, it became obvious that it would be most helpful for the larger LDS community that all the gospel-consistent approaches be united under a single umbrella. Both Evergreen and North Star’s leadership felt that it would be best to put aside whatever differences there might have been between our two organizations for the sake of less confusion and greater effectiveness.
Both North Star and Evergreen have people who like it but not the other one, or dislike both of them, but we want everyone to know we will do our best to be as inclusive as possible with the widest possible variety of faithful perspectives on this issue. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. It’s something we’ve been mindful of from the very beginning of the organization. For the sake of the larger good, we invite everyone in the LDS faith community to put behind them whatever hurts or bad feelings they may have had about either organization and join us in helping uplift and strengthen our fellow Latter-day Saints.
Is Evergreen Shutting Down?
That’s not how I see it at all, though some news organizations and others are spinning it that way. I see us as continuing much of the work Evergreen has done for this long time. Evergreen’s name will be no more, but I intend that all the good work they did, and all the good people who helped do it, will live on under the North Star umbrella.
For legal and financial reasons, and because we are both non-profits, it was easiest for North Star to simply assume the intellectual property, financial assets, initiatives, and human resources that both organizations wished to continue, and then dissolve the legal entity of Evergreen. The legal subtleties of the combination however, do not mean that nothing about Evergreen will continue. There is much that will continue, and that we will build on, of the great good Evergreen has done over the many years it has been in existence.