Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Mormon Church, Gays and "Spiritual Tough Love"

“This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life
 is the day for men to perform their labors.” 

~ Alma 34:32 (Book of Mormon)

Last month, my daughter wrote a beautiful post that she published on her blog. It concerned resolving conflicts within herself about, on the one hand, what her Mormon religion and leaders had taught and told her concerning homosexuality and, on the other hand, what her own experience had been with her gay dad and his partner.

I wrote a post in response to Hannah's piece, and both of our pieces were subsequently republished on a couple of other large blogs in the Mormon blogosphere. Many of the comments that were left on these various blogs have caused me to reflect on a number of issues concerning the LDS Church. This is the first of a series of posts in response to these comments.

Because of the nature of Hannah's post, a number of the comments focused on what Mormon families with gay members can or can't do to "support" them. One commenter quoted the following from a discussion between the Mormon Church's Public Affairs Department and Dallin Oakes, one of the Church's senior apostles:

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: At what point does showing that love [for a gay family member] cross the line into inadvertently endorsing behavior? If the son says, ‘Well, if you love me, can I bring my partner to our home to visit? Can we come for holidays?’ How do you balance that against, for example, concern for other children in the home?’ 
ELDER OAKS: That’s a decision that needs to be made individually by the person responsible, calling upon the Lord for inspiration. I can imagine that in most circumstances the parents would say, ‘Please don’t do that. Don’t put us into that position.’ Surely if there are children in the home who would be influenced by this example, the answer would likely be that. There would also be other factors that would make that the likely answer. 
I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say, ‘Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your “partnership.”

There are many things that could be said about the above quote. As I contemplated it, the thought that came forcefully to my mind is that the Mormon Church forces devoted Mormons with gay family members to make a choice between (i) fully accepting these family members or (ii) tolerating them to varying degrees - a tolerance that the Church has the nerve to call "love." Of course, for faithful Mormons, this really isn't a choice.

The Church advocates a form of what could be termed "spiritual tough love": parents are encouraged to predicate their love for their children (and children the love for their parents) on how well standards of the Church are being lived.  If children deviate from those standards (e.g., if they are gay and "act upon their sexuality"), the Church encourages parents to distance themselves from such children lest their behavior (i.e., of the parents) be deemed implied endorsement of such deviation, justifying such counsel based on the premise that such "tough love" is for the eternal welfare of "wayward" children.

But what delusion! Many "faithful" Mormon parents really believe (because they are taught to do so) that, after a lifetime of distancing themselves from their children (or, in some cases, of children distancing themselves from their gay parents), that their family is somehow going to be "healed" in the eternities. However, Joseph Smith taught that the spirit that possesses a man at death will carry on with him in the next life. In other words, Mormons don't believe in death-bed repentance: a man's lifetime of works will be carried with him into the spirit world upon death. This philosophy is also expressed in the Book of Mormon scripture quoted above that is widely known and quoted in the Mormon Church.

The Church, however, teaches a different philosophy and doctrine with respect to how parents have treated their children throughout their lives because of a belief that the parents have to "remain faithful."  (This is based in part on a doctrine that was taught by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, i.e., that if parents are "sealed" in the temple and their children are sealed to them, wayward children will eventually be saved in the eternities IF the parents remain faithful.) This gives rise to a sort of "spiritual tough love."

This doctrine and philosophy results in a belief in a sort of converse of death bed repentance: a magic wand will be waved over a family in the next life, and all the separation, all the unhappiness, all the heartache that has been created in families in mortality - springing from a desire to remain "faithful" - will somehow magically disappear. 

Therefore, with respect to what the Church teaches is the most important thing in mortality - the family - this life is apparently NOT the time to prepare to meet God; it is NOT the time to focus on creating loving bonds, of cherishing our children, of loving our parents FOR WHO THEY ARE. Instead, it is a time to predicate familial love on adherence to a set of imposed standards, a time to carefully control love lest it be deemed "endorsement of behavior."

In this regard, I am reminded of a story I was told by a Mormon mother of a gay son. She and her husband had traveled out of state to attend the wedding of their son to another man. Upon their arrival back home, the stake president paid them a visit to counsel them about they could appropriately love their son and "support" their son. He solemnly concluded his counsel by stating the above-described doctrine. "If you are faithful," he said, "you can be with your son in the eternities." The mother replied simply and firmly, "But I want to be with him now."

I conclude with the following words that my beautiful daughter published on her Facebook page on the day that the Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality were handed down:
I believe in kind, respectful, loving, honest, dedicated relationships. I believe that family is loving and supporting each other no matter what your differences may be. I believe that love itself can never be evil. I believe that fighting against any kind of respectful, loving, honest, dedicated relationship is wrong.  
I hope and pray that my children will grow up in a world where children don't have to fear being who they were born to be, where they will be treated differently, let alone be bullied and threatened and told that there is anything they could do that will make God love them less.


  1. "I just want to be with him now" - reality over possibility - is the bottom line for this American religion. Is the future more important than the present? Is the focus on what could be so much more important than on what is? Is solace the cheap escape hatch for doing the difficult work called mortality? For me, I have simply halted the never-ending process of living for tomorrow and embraced that there is "no day but today" - with an eye towards learning greater truths from experience, reflection upon Reason and personal revelation - and incorporating these findings into the rest of my life.

  2. Love that is conditional is not the love of God. It is driven by the ego. If you want to know what the difference is then give your love unconditionally and it will become apparent to you.

  3. Joseph, as always, your thoughts are provoking of deep contemplation. I helped a dear friend, gay too, into activity. He received the Melchizedek Priesthood, and then I took him through the Temple for his endowments. He then got a boyfriend, (among other things he was lonely, he needed human love, bonds, an emotional and reciprocal "rasion d'être"), and I faced a challenge: Do I support him, (for I love the guy), or do I distance myself lest my support be deemed approval, and this lead my friend further down the path… I chose, and I did so quickly, however hard given the messages you cited, but in reality I had to be true, I embraced him and his partner with love. I decided what would it benefit my friend to be shunned by a Mormon or loved or engaged less than to keep up the love and friendship. Let God judge, and given our LDS unwillingness to seek full inspiration on homosexuality, and our previous messages of full to now moderate exclusion, I am not in a position to hand down a verdict, only to be a force for good in my corner of the world. God bless us all.

  4. As Tiny Tim said, "God bless us, everyone." Thank you for embracing your friend, for offering him your love and support. Are you less of a Christian? Nay, you are more. Bless you.