How Should Mormons Respond to Leader’s Anti-Gay Comments?

Laura Compton is a member of the LDS Church, a mother of two young children, and the voice of Mormons for Marriage, a grassroots group of Mormons supportive of LGBT equality organized during the Proposition 8 campaign. She lives in Northern California.

How are Mormons who support marriage equality responding to Elder Boyd K. Packer’s recent General Conference talk on homosexuality?

Many people responded with sadness, anger or resignation that it’s the same old leftovers, warmed over yet again, despite the hard work toward finding common ground and reconciliation. But now that some time has passed, I’ve seen a renewed dedication to opposing messages of fear and misunderstanding and to publishing messages of confidence and love. There are still a lot of people who are hurting and upset and questioning whether they should continue to be involved with their religion, but there are also people channeling that pain, frustration and anger into positive action, reaching out to one another and to strangers.

Some orthodox Mormons have responded to Elder Packer’s talk by saying, “He was just defending basic Mormon doctrine on marriage. I see no problem with what he said.” How would you respond?

I would say, “I understand you don’t have a problem with this talk, but I do. This is what is problematic for me:_______” What’s problematic will be different for different people. Perhaps it is the fear that this message will be used to support prejudicial, bigoted, bullying points of view. Perhaps its the conflation of gender identity and sexual attraction. Perhaps it’s the overuse of euphemisms which create ambiguity and allow for overbroad interpretation which grants permission for bigotry. Perhaps it’s the connection between homosexuality and addiction. Perhaps it’s the implication that sexual attraction in and of itself is unnatural and unholy whether or not it is acted upon. Perhaps it’s the bluntness of the message, the seeming lack of compassion or acknowledgment that many suffer—and have suffered for years—while trying to live up to this standard.

The talk was so filled with euphemisms, ambiguity and indirect messages, it could pretty much be interpreted to mean just about anything you want it to mean. Unfortunately, there are lots of people who are interpreting President Packer’s message to be: Homosexuality is an unnatural addiction/temptation from which God will free you if you work hard enough.

While that may be a comforting message to people who don’t like their orientation, and while it may give strength to the few who’ve “recovered” (whatever that means) from being gay, I personally have seen and known too many young people who kill themselves trying to get rid of the “addiction” or overcome the “temptation” to make the message palatable to me. And I’ve see too many families upset and torn apart because their children/parents are unable/unwilling to “keep on trying just once more.”

How hard could it really have been for Elder Packer to include a message along the lines of, “Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you same-sex attraction will not go away. If you find yourself in that situation, please know God loves you. Pray instead that you and your family and friends can accept you for who you are right now. Pray for opportunities to love and bless those you love. Pray for patience for yourself and others. But whatever you do, don’t believe for one moment that Satan has ensnared you and is leading you down the primrose path to hell. You have more power than he does because you are here, living in a physical body experiencing a physical life. Your life matters and you belong here where you can use your influence for good.”

Many LDS people with LGBT friends and relatives felt hurt and discouraged by Elder Packer’s talk. What would you say to them?

Don’t let this talk silence you. Don’t let it drive you away (but don’t let it endanger your life either). God loves you and your children and your friends. Church leaders are very clear that being attracted to members of the same sex is not sinful, is not abominable. If you’ve spent your energy praying to have the attraction removed from your mind and heart and life, yet it remains, it is not because you are not righteous enough or repentant enough or sincere enough. Pray instead that you will be able to accept yourself (or your loved one) the way God does. Pray for peace and assurance of God’s love. Fill your life with positive messages and don’t give time or space to negative messages – whether they’re internal or external.

And as my friend Mitch wrote recently on mormonsformarriage.com, “despite how you feel, you are not alone. Your path likely won’t be easy, but don’t let anyone dissuade you from loving your Savior. I can testify to you that he is right beside you, and he loves you exactly as you are.”

The Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT advocacy groups are now using Elder Packer’s conference talk to mobilize supporters. Thoughts?

That’s certainly a first, isn’t it? I don’t think any other conference talk has garnered that kind of attention. Part of what inspires revelation in the LDS church is having a prophet recognize that there’s a problem that must be addressed. We’ve seen that countless times—you need to study an issue, come up with a possible solution, pray about it and get confirmation that your solution is right or wrong. Sometimes it takes a lot of noise from lots of squeaky wheels before the driver notices the car needs repairs.

Talk about the march you’re doing this weekend about youth suicide.

On Friday, October 8, Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons is organizing a “Stand Up to Youth Suicide March” at 6:30 p.m. at the San Francisco Civic Center.

The march on Friday is in conjunction with Affirmation’s annual conference, which is being held in San Francisco this year and which will feature workshops on standing up to suicide, standing up for understanding and standing up for equality. With the prominence of LGBT suicides the past month, the march is sadly poignant and important. There’s more information about these events at affirmation.org.

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