The October Ensign article by Elder Holland is now online, for those of you who haven’t had the chance to read it yet. It’s also now been added to the North Star Library articles page:

Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Ensign, October 2007, 41-45

So, what did you think?

Two of my favorite parts:

Young man: ?I?m gay.?
Elder Holland: ?And ? ??

Elder Holland: “Unfortunately, some people believe they have all the answers now and declare their opinions far and wide. Fortunately, such people do not speak for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

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21 comments

  1. avatar

    The desire for physical gratification does not authorize immorality by anyone.

    Same-sex relationships are not just about physical gratification. No relationship — same-sex or opposite-sex — that is primarily about physical gratification will last or, ultimately, give us the fulfillment and joy that is possible in the context of family. It feels very demeaning to have my relationship with my partner — in all its complexity, with all its joys and sorrows, with all the learning, loving, and strength it has offered me, with all the good that I have seen come out of it and that will continue to come out of it — be dismissed with a single word, “immorality.”

    I am extremely grateful for the general tone of this article. Like other statements in the past year that have preceded it, it is generally loving, and the focus is on reaching out, trying to understand, and including. But it still doesn’t get fully “real.” I’m longing for a dialog with general authorities that doesn’t caricature same-sex relationships as mere “physical gratification,” that acknowledges the basic, human and societal needs that they fulfill. I would love to have some discussion that acknowledges the way our communities, our families, and the society at large is strengthened when individuals benefit from the strength and support that comes from loving, stable committed relationships between individuals; and the harm that individuals suffer when they are forced to live in isolation.

    I’ve actually had a couple of dreams in which I met Elder Holland. In the first dream, he asked me a series of probing, intimate questions, and I answered every single one of them honestly and from the heart. I knew that if he understood the full story, if he knew everything about me that he could not condemn me. In the second dream I approached him and reached my hand out in friendship, and he frowned at me and turned away. In the second dream, I did not feel bad, or humiliated, only sad.

    Reading this article felt more to me like the second dream encounter…

  2. avatar

    I also enjoyed the overall tone and love the quotes you mentioned. Had I read only the online version, I wouldn’t have had the experience tainted by the editorial layout in the Ensign. Rather than expound here, I’ll just say I wrote a blog post about it.

  3. avatar

    JGW?

    I always enjoy reading your comments!

    Based on your writings, it seems like you want the Brethren to show a small sign of acceptance of those people who choose to enter a same-sex relationship. I think that is the crux of your comments about Elder Holland?s article. For example, you characterize Elder Holland?s words regarding such relationships as simplistic (e.g., your ?one word? comment), but it appears to me that root of your objections lies within your desire to have the Brethren bless your decision to some degree.

    The General Authorities have never condoned SSA relationships in the least degree. Assuming they do not deviate from their positions, is there any article/pamphlet/brochure they could publish that would satisfy your objections? It seems you and the Brethren are at an impasse. They do not deviate from their moral positions, and you do not deviate from your desire that they bless same-sex relationships in some small degree.

    Is my analysis accurate?

  4. avatar

    Not quite.

    I’m not seeking the “approval” of the brethren. If I could somehow cajole the brethren into giving me their approval, it would be an empty gesture, and we’d all know it. The only approval that means anything is approval from God, and the role of the brethren is to point us toward God. We should all of us — brethren and rank and file — be concerned primarily about the truth.

    I’m open to discussing the morality of my relationship. I recognize that while I have a conscience and am doing the best I can to live according to it, that my conscience needs to be informed by the witness of others. I honestly believe Elder Holland when he speaks fervently in this article of the profound love of the brethren for every single one of us. I believe they want to help us make the best and most moral decisions possible… And in fact, they do help me, which is why I have returned to the Church and why I attend as much of General Conference as I possibly can.

    But I’m afraid that as long as same-sex relationships are discussed as a one-dimensional search for lust gratification, the very, very many gay men and lesbians who know that it isn’t just about that are going to hear a statement like this, and they’re going to say, “He’s just not talking to me. He doesn’t understand my circumstances.”

    I’m also afraid that many young folks listening to this will eventually come to a point in their lives where they make a realization: “Hey, this isn’t just about lust. It’s about loneliness. It’s about sharing your life with another human being. It’s about some of the ultimate sources of human meaning — love, sacrifice, etc.” They’ll feel betrayed by the leaders who didn’t address these issues in their full complexity. I’m seeing this dynamic at work as we speak on the blogs of some of the young Mohos… A one-dimensional analysis always ultimately ends up leaving people cold… What ends up is they leave in disgust and anger, because of the sense of betrayal, and because they feel they are not understood.

  5. Pingback: A Soft Answer · “Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction”

  6. avatar

    socal

    John,

    While I understand your viewpoint that not all same-sex relationships are about lust, in the eyes of the Church and in my belief, God, it really doesn’t matter. Since I believe the brethren are ordained as God’s mouthpiece on Earth, they have consistently said that same-sex relationships in a sexual context are wrong. It does not matter whether they are lust-based or have a strong component of love to them. When engaging in conduct that violates the law of chastity, as it has been taught, violates God’s law. While I understand that you may not agree with me or the Church on this matter, it almost seems like you want to have your cake and eat it too. If you desire to be a member of the Church in good-standing, sometimes tough decisions have to be made. The Church is not going to change its stance on the morality of same-sex relationships. While I am encouraged about their tone and their understanding that feelings are not chosen, conduct is. I guess what I am trying to say, and please don’t be offended by this, but it almost sounds like you are rationalizing a same-sex relationship based on what you view as the motive of the relationship.

    While I understand that you may be in a relationship where you care deeply about a member of the same-gender but it ultimately comes down to choices. If you believe that this is the Lord’s Church and you want to be a member in good-standing, then you will have to choose between the Church and a same-sex relationship. If you don’t believe this is the Lord’s Church and/or don’t care to remain a member in good-standing then choose the same-sex relationship, but please don’t try to rationalize the relationship as a justification to be able to remain a good-standing member because of what you perceive as the motives of your relationship because frankly it doesn’t matter.

  7. avatar

    John, I get what you’re saying here (#4), and I agree. I was listening to an interview with Blake Ostler recently, and he said that when he responds to critical arguments against the Church, he feels morally responsible not just to respond to the given criticism, but if there’s even stronger evidence for their argument than what they’ve presented or are aware of, to first strengthen the criticism so he can then respond to it in it’s entirety.

    I was talking to someone about this once, and his argument for the immorality of homosexuality was that so many relationships are either promiscuous or so short-lived. Whether or not that’s true, it’s not a solid argument to base a position on. It doesn’t address gay men and lesbians who seem to have healthy relationships they’ve been in monogamously for many years, and it’s not fair to judge the morality of one relationship because of what someone else is doing. Similarly, I would suggest that one can’t argue against heterosexuality because of increasingly high rates of infidelity and divorce. All of these questions are so complex and nuanced that only when we sit down and look at the issue from all sides and perspectives, asking more deep and discerning questions, can we then come to a more full understanding and talk about progression and resolution in ways that will be more healthy and helpful to all parties involved.

    So, my question to you is: if you were in the position of Church leaders to address the situation in a way that stayed in integrity with the Church’s position on the issue while recognizing the greater depth of it, and while maintaining the compassionate tone expressed recently, what would you say? How would you address it? Also addressing some of the questions and problems around betrayal you brought up…

  8. avatar

    Tito – HA! That’s a loaded question. “What would you do if you were a general authority?” That’s a question I generally try to stay far, far away from. There are already far too many people in the world spouting off about How I Would Run the Church.

    Here’s the thing… You’re saying, “How would you respond in a way that takes the issues you’ve raised into account?” And I’m saying, “The problem is, all the issues I’ve raised haven’t been taken into account!” If a position is taken in absence of all the facts, then the position may be erroneous, and I don’t care who’s taken it… My reading of the Doctrine and Covenants suggests that, Yes, Even Prophets and Apostles need to do their homework in order to qualify for valid inspiration on a topic. And my point is, what Elder Holland’s saying here doesn’t suggest to me that he has done it.

    Here’s my dream scenario… I would love to invite any General Authority to come live with me for a week. Let them see what kind of life my partner and I have made with each other, let them understand us just as we are, no facades, no rationalizations, let them hear our stories in our own words, let them understand what brought us together, let them understand how we’ve come to the point we have come in our lives together over the last 15 years. Might their understanding of this issue change?

    Maybe not! But then I would be very, very interested in hearing what they have to say to me about the morality of same-sex relationships, because I would have confidence that the knowledge and understanding is much truer and deeper.

    But maybe their understanding would change… Maybe they would say very different things in light of their new understanding of the topic.

    You’ve written elsewhere that you don’t want General Authorities “giving us all the answers.” I’m inclined to agree heartily! That would defeat the purpose of our mortal existence. We are here to exercise faith and to discern and make moral decisions. If someone makes them all for us, we are denied one of the most valuable and precious gifts our Heavenly Father has given us.

    That is why I suspect if my “dream scenario” of having a G.A. housemate for a week were ever to come true, the ensuing conversation might go something like this:

    G.A.: “Well, John. I don’t know what to tell you. I love you very much, I respect your life and your integrity and the decisions you’ve made. I can only tell you what I know about the Law of Chastity. It is up to you to decide how you will incorporate those principles in your life. You are doing a good job, and I wish you well.”

    That is actually more or less what my bishop has already said to me, and I don’t feel the need to go up the authority chain, because I trust my bishop, and I trust he represents not just the leaders who stand over him, but the Lord. I can’t ask more than that.

    But I wish this dialog could happen! Because I’m not sure that level of understanding is there, and I want to see how the dialog could change if it were.

    As I said, right now this statement is likely to come across to most people in my position as flat, one-dimensional, and lacking some pretty fundamental understanding.

  9. avatar

    But maybe their understanding would change? Maybe they would say very different things in light of their new understanding of the topic.

    My take on what you’re really wanting is for them to acknowledge or at least understand that the love, compassion, caring and intimacy in a homosexual relationship can be just as real, intense and valid as in a heterosexual relationship. You want parity.

    And what will come with that parity? Perhaps you are pinning hope on a change of some sort? It could happen. I think it could. I don’t think it would be something drastic, as in repealing the Law of Chastity. That is a LAW. But perhaps there could be a change of PRACTICE. For example, they used to regularly excommunicate people for having premarital sex. They would even announce it in Sacrament meeting that “so and so” had been excommunicated. About 25 years ago they decided they were being too harsh – too quick to excommunicate. They decided it was unkind to announce things like that in a Church meeting. So they sent out new guidelines about Church discipline. They softened their approach. They changed the PRACTICE.

    Right now they usually excommunicate people for living in Gay relationships. Perhaps, with more understanding, they would become less harsh on that count as well? That’s the only outcome of your “dream scenario” I think has any possibility of coming to pass (other than the educational component).

    I personally am apalled at the exit rate of our SSA members from the rolls of the Church. We are diminished as a people without them. I would welcome anything that helps stop that bleeding…

  10. avatar

    I’m not sure I really want anything at this point. I really wanted the Church to change, ironically, when I was completely distanced from it. I have returned to the Church in response to a call from the Spirit. Part of my struggle in responding to that call was my clear awareness of the seeming unlikelihood of any significant change on this issue in my life-time. I’ve made my peace with that. Or I should say, the Spirit has assisted me in making peace with that.

    But it has also been very clear to me through the Spirit that I should honor my relationship with my partner, and be faithful to him in every way that I would be faithful to a legally married, opposite-sex spouse. I have received an assurance from the Spirit that if I am faithful in every way that it is possible for me to be faithful as a Latter-day Saint, I will be blessed beyond measure in this life, and that everything will be well for me in the next life. On the strength of that assurance, I am willing to accept whatever discipline and/or limitations are presently required by the leadership of the Church.

    So, no, I don’t particularly expect or “want” the Church to change for my benefit. I don’t expect the “approval” of general authorities or anyone else in the Church. I trust that the Church is the Lord’s, and he will guide it as he sees fit, in accordance with our faithfulness. I would be very grateful for any change in practice that might make it possible for me to participate more fully in the life of the Church, because I love the Church. But I know with every fiber of my being that I am loved by Heavenly Father, and that I am accepted and approved by him. That is all I need.

    What I would hope for is more discussion of the truth of same-sex relationships. This is not for my benefit… I know the truth of my relationship with my partner very, very well. But the Church does not do itself a service, nor does it have a very profitable discussion about these issues when same-sex relationships are characterized as relationships that are based solely upon “physical gratification.” When young gay men and lesbians learn the truth of it — as they inevitably will in the age of the Internet — they will feel betrayed and lied to by the Church.

    However, once you begin to look at and understand same-sex relationships in their truth and in their complexity, you lose the convenience of black/white moral absolutism in discussing these relationships. You might begin to realize that, yes, a committed same-sex relationship is, if not as good as a heterosexual relationship in the moral hierarchy, at least much, much better than promiscuity. I know most people in the Church are not comfortable discussing degrees of moral behavior, i.e.: X is ideal, but lacking X, Y is still better than Z. I almost hesitate to mention this, for fear of being dog-piled.

    But I’m afraid we inadvertently promote highly immoral behavior when we tell same-sex oriented folks that their only choice is life-long abstinence… I could go on, but you catch my drift. There is much value to be had in a discussion of these issues that doesn’t caricature or distort.

  11. avatar

    John, I love the spirit of your posts. You’re a wonderful example of someone in your situation. You’re a wonderful example, period. I feel very grateful right now that you’re a part of this community. Thank you for being so open, genuine, and positive.

    I’d like to expand on your dream hypothetical. Let’s suppose that you get a GA housemate for a week, and he’s able to see the nature of your interaction with Goran. Let’s say he recognizes the depth of the affection and commitment you share with one another… Actually, even as I write this, I think I have a sense for your answer based on previous feelings and impressions you’ve shared here, but I’m going to throw this out anyway…

    Let’s then say Elder GA says to you at the end of this week of living with you, “John Gustav-Wrathall, this has been a beautiful experience living with you, seeing your heart, and witnessing the beauty of affection you share with your partner. I sense that your relationship is not just about physical gratification, and there are deeper levels of connection and intimacy. You live with great integrity and heart, and I honor you for that. I also want to be clear that as an apostolic witness of God and His plan for our salvation and exaltation, the nature of your relationship as is will ultimately limit your progression and ability to receive all the blessings God would have for you. The fullness of joy God has prepared and wants for all of His children who will live for it is in a celestial marriage—the sealing for eternity of man and woman with the promise of eternal progression and increase, of ‘eternal lives.’ If you are to have those blessings, you will at some point have to make difficult and heart-wrenching choices to live for that blessing. The love and depth of affection and commitment you share with Goran can and will continue in the form of genuine love between Christian brothers, sons of God, but aspects of your relationship you currently consider important must end at some point if you are to continue progressing along the divine continuum we call the plan of happiness and exaltation. Know that this is true, and be mindful of it even as you make the choices you feel the Spirit is now leading you to make to honor your relationship as it is. And prepare yourself for the time the Spirit will call you to make the changes necessary to continue your progression.”

    So, Elder GA says this to you, recognizing the deeper dimensions of your relationship with Goran and honoring the aspects of that relationship that are not out of harmony with the plan of salvation, while also remaining in integrity with Church doctrines. Your response?

  12. avatar

    Well, technically I think I’ve already answered your question, since the hypothetical scenario you spelled out is more or less the same as mine. In both scenarios, we have our hypothetical ?Elder GA? reiterating the Law of Chastity, while at the same time affirming my duty to my conscience. You just spelled it out in greater detail.

    But I think what you really meant to ask was, how would I respond if I was told that the full context of my relationship with my partner and my love for him made no difference in the scheme of eternal progression. And my answer to that is it does make a difference. It makes all the difference in the world. There are few things I know with greater surety.

    Both my partner and I have learned and grown so much from our relationship… And we continue to grow. I have seen the positive effects that our relationship has had not only on our lives, but on the lives of others too ? on our families, our friends, and the communities we belong to. We have heterosexual friends who have told us they look to our relationship as a model for their own. We have been told that our commitment to each other is a presence in our community that encourages and strengthens others. It is largely thanks to the stability, support and growth I’ve experienced in the context of this relationship that I believe I found the strength to face my fears and turn back to the LDS Church. And my renewed commitment to the LDS Church has, in turn, both challenged and strengthened the relationship. Now, I am finally seeing a significant change of heart in my partner in relation to the Church, and I am seeing spiritual growth in him that I haven’t seen before, largely, I believe, as an answer to my own prayers and my determination to remain true to the Spirit and to the Church.

    You seem to feel that my relationship with my partner is this thing over there that God merely tolerates or that is some kind of a crutch that I should eventually outgrow. Or that the sexual/intimate aspects of the relationship have nothing to do with the good things in the rest of the relationship. But that is not true. They are interwoven. In a thing as complex as an intimate relationship, you can’t pull one strand out and pretend that it doesn’t affect every other strand.

    And my faith tells me that good fruit can only come from a good tree, and that everything that induces us to have faith in Christ, to be loyal to God, and to love more deeply and more concretely comes from God. My relationship with my partner does all these things. I feel profoundly blessed by God, through my relationship with my partner. I do not believe God would guide me to remain loyal to something that would harm me eternally.

    I have a deep testimony of eternal marriage. I have seen very, very good fruit from my parents’ temple marriage. Perhaps my relationship to my partner does not even compare to the good from that relationship in the eternal scheme of things. I do not know all things, but I know that God loveth his children! I’m not sure what more I can say about this…

    Faith is about listening, doing what your conscience tells you you must even faced with painful contradictions, loving the best way you know how, and waiting to see how it all turns out. I am content to do all of the above.

  13. avatar

    socal

    I admire the love and commitment that you have for your partner. I admire your willingness to come back to the Church. I do wonder, though, what will you do if you have to go through Church discipline and are subject to excommunication? As much as I believe that you have love in your relationship and that you are commited to each other in very deep and intimate ways at multiple levels, I do not believe that the Church can or will ever change its stance on homosexuality. The Plan of Salvation will not allow it. I know of people who are waiting for a “revelation” similar to that of the priesthood. The difference here, though, is the revelation on the priesthood had been prophesied or envisioned since the days of Brigham Young. It just happened a lot sooner than most members thought it would. Most members thought it would happen in the millenium. In addition, the ban had nothing to do with conduct where the Church’s stance on homosexuality has everything to do with conduct.

    As I said, while I admire you for your principles, your commitment, and your vision of making a wonderful life for you and your partner and your willingness to come back to Church, I don’t ever envision a revelation or a significant change in the Church’s stance. It just goes against the plan as laid out. I do think the Church is willing to make changes in the way it reaches out to those with SSA in being more compassionate and not so quick to judge, but I don’t ever see it willing to embrace same-sex intimate relationships. I wish you and your partner the best of luck in the path that you choose. I hope that you find happiness along the way and that you are able to remain close to the Church in whatever way that you feel that you can.

  14. avatar

    “You seem to feel that my relationship with my partner is this thing over there that God merely tolerates or that is some kind of a crutch that I should eventually outgrow.”

    John, let me just be clear about what I was not saying in my hypothetical Elder GA response:

    If we grant as true that eternal life—as differentiated from other degrees of salvation—consists of a celestial union between man and woman, and we also grant as true that God, in His own ways and purposes that we don’t always understand, has guided you to stay in this relationship for a particular purpose, do you think it would somehow lessen or cheapen the positive growth your relationship has facilitated with both you and Goran for God to say at some point, “Okay, you’ve now grown as much as you can in these circumstances. In order for you to continue growing, the nature of this relationship is going to have to change, and you are going to have to prepare yourself for an eternal union with a woman.”

    If true, does this mean that God is merely “tolerating” your relationship to say that at some point things are going to have to change in order to facilitate future growth and progression? Did God merely “tolerate” His children in the premortal life until He said, “Okay, you’ve grown here as much as you can here in my presence; now it’s time for you to experience mortality and to gain a body in order for you to continue the path toward becoming as I am.” Was premortal life and and learning just a “crutch”? Is mortal life and learning just a “crutch”? Does God merely “tolerate” any of His children when they are living and growing in ways that will eventually have to change if they are to continue growing and progressing? As important as my years were at home with my parents, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today if I stayed there. And I don’t think I would be where God wants me to be eternally if I stay where I am today.

    The hypothetical question was not intended to devalue your relationship with Goran—not unless you believe that the possibility that God would at some point invoke some evolution in order to facilitate continued growth and progression for both you and Goran toward eternal life devalues it or makes it a crutch.

    In your hypothetical, you wanted a GA to live with you and to see that your relationship was not one-dimensional and based simply on physical gratification. In my extension of that hypothetical, this GA acknowledges the truthfulness of your claim—that your relationship is deep and the love is real—and yet maintains fidelity to eternal principle, as taught by the Church leaders, that eternal life consists of celestial union between male and female.

    The hypothetical was not intended to be offensive; I sincerely apologize if it was.

  15. avatar

    Socal – I’m already excommunicated. Have been since 1986.

    Tito – My understanding of my relationship with my partner is like recognizing great art. I don’t know how to define it, but I know it when I see it. And I know what it isn’t. The way you (and Elder Holland) have characterized my relationship with my partner definitely feels to me how it isn’t. Though I acknowledge with some gratitude that at least your characterization of my relationship feels truer than writing it off with one dismissive phrase like “physical gratification” or one dismissive word like “immorality.” Thank you at least for that.

    No offense is taken. I’m trying to be clearly understood, that’s all.

  16. avatar

    Maybe one week wouldn’t be enough. The only way you can know the truth of a relationship is to actually be inside it.

    Heck, it’s taken me 15 years to begin to understand the full depth of it. And I’m still learning.

    My point was, I have no fear of being completely understood as I am, and having my relationship completely understood as it is. Perhaps the only person who has that understanding is God himself.

  17. avatar

    Tito – On further reflection, the one thing I would add is, if indeed my relationship is something I will grow out of, I will deal with that as it comes.

    I ain’t there yet! My relationship still seems to be growing, not being grown out of.

  18. avatar
  19. avatar

    John, I’m truly happy for you that you’re experiencing fulfillment and growth in your relationship. And I trust that you truly desire to follow God and listen to the Spirit and will continue to do so.

    I also feel like you’re missing the point of what I was saying. I was in no way trying to minimize your relationship with your partner or likening it to growing out of an old pair of pants. What I was getting at in the hypothetical was that if the Church is true, and if eternal life consists of celestial marriage between a man and a women, only, including the possibility of plural marriage, then is it not true that at some point there will have to be some qualitative changes in the nature of your relationship with your partner? Not that the love or affection will be any less—but it would necessarily be different. I suspect that both platonic and conjugal love will be much deeper and richer on all levels in a celestial world than what we experience here. Perhaps it’s something you don’t need to worry about at this time, and perhaps it’s something you do, but that is what I was trying to get at—not somehow cheapen the purpose or quality of your relationship. And I feel like that’s what you are hearing.

  20. avatar

    Tito – I understand what you’re saying. Your speculation about the future of my relationship is something for me to think about. Actually these are things I do think about frequently.

  21. avatar

    I feel the need to retract some of the things I’ve written here. Here’s a link to my blog explaining more.