|Affirmation Calendar 2013
The Guide Includes Some Excellent Advice, But It Also Borrows from Discredited Theories
by Edward Jones III
Update: As of January 30, 2013, the Bishop’s Guide for Same-Sex Attraction has been removed from the website providentliving.org and so some of the links below might not work. We apologize about the inconvenience and as soon as we know more about this developing situation we will update this post again.
The LDS church has published an online guide to assist bishops in dealing with Mormons “with same-sex attraction” (SSA) and their families. The recommendations in the guide track concepts introduced last month in the church’s website MormonsAndGays.org.
The Bishop’s Guide consists of an introductory paragraph, sections titled Seek to Understand, Help for the Individual and Family, and Using Ward and Stake Resources. There are also sidebars briefly stating the church’s position and pointing to additional resources. The website encourages viewers to use a feedback section at the bottom of the page to provide an honest appraisal of the guide’s contents.
There is much to praise here. Bishops are encouraged to ask open-ended questions about people’s lives, families, relationship with God, and talents that could be used in the ward. In the “Help for the Individual and Family” section, individual worth as a child of God is emphasized, along with spiritual strengths, the need to establish supportive relationships and serve others, and continuing to meet with the bishop for support.
The strongest section of the guide is “Using Ward and Stake Resources.” Here, bishops are instructed to avoid offering marriage, missionary service, or “radical therapy [that] will eliminate” their “same-sex attraction.” Leaders are encouraged to create a culture in which all members will feel loved, to support family members’ efforts to respond with love, and to inform families that their love for their family member is compatible with commitment to the gospel.
These instructions represent a significant step forward for the Church and are sure to have a great impact on the lives of gay Mormons and in particular gay Mormon youth. They are not without significant problems, however. The guide gets off to a rocky start with references to individuals with “same-sex attraction” rather than “LGBT people” or “gays and lesbians,” terms most gay people prefer. The introduction mentions the “intense shame, unworthiness, and fear of rejection” a lesbian or gay person may feel, without acknowledging that those feelings are frequently caused by the church itself and its members.
The guide refers to “unworthy actions,” “temptation,” and “triggers,” —words that denigrate any intimate same-gender contact, no matter how loving. A subsection on seeking professional help —ideally, the Guide states, from LDS Family Services— seems to reinforce negative stereotypes of LGBT people by associating same-sex attraction with “addictive behaviors, emotional health challenges, abuse, and other related issues.” LGBT Mormons are counseled to develop “healthy, nonsexual, same-gender relationships,” borrowing from now-discredited theories that homosexuality is caused by unsatisfactory past same-gender relationships.
The ambivalence of the Church’s response throughout the guide (as well as the mormonsandgays.com website) is encapsulated in the two scriptures listed in the guide’s Additional Resources section. First Nephi 11:17 suggests humility and love on the church’s part: “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” But Doctrine & Covenants 98:1-3 promises that “all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good,” suggesting that our sexual orientation is an affliction or tribulation to be struggled with until some future time. The Additional Resources section also unfortunately refers to articles and interviews that are no longer consistent with the church’s position, creating the potential for more confusion.
In sum, the Bishop’s Guide: Same-Sex Attraction contains some excellent advice that extends the positive steps taken in the Church’s recent website. Affirmation hopes to work with the church to remove or recast elements of the guide that are inconsistent with the Church’s own policy or the lived experience of LGBT Mormons.