Other articles in this round table discussion include “Sexuality, Choice and Kindness” by Nathaniel Givens, “Pro-Choice Sexuality” by Ralph Hancock, on “Why I Wrote the Article on Teaching Heterosexuality and Do I Regret It?” by JeaNette Goates Smith. This is a delicate subject and each of us represents his or her own point of view.
Several days ago Meridian published an article by JeaNette Goates Smith called
“Can You Help Your Children Choose Heterosexuality?” that caused a firestorm. Hate mail began to pour in, filled with obscenity, vitriol and threats to the author personally and professionally. Many of these emails were orchestrated by some who were sending out notices to people on their list, telling them to come to Meridian and target this article.
Ultimately at the end of the day we withdrew the article for several reasons that we want to make clear to our readers. We were concerned, of course, about the threats to the author, but that alone would not have made us withdraw the article.
These threats said more about the antagonists than the author, suggesting that we have a new Inquisition abroad—only this time it doesn’t come from the reigning religion to the heretic, but to anyone who dares challenge the new sexual agenda. The purpose of the blaze of emails was to tell us: talk about this and you will be burned.
Admittedly talking about homosexuality in any way is sensitive and it is emotionally laden and painful for some. We understand this.
But an unfortunate and dangerous thing has happened. We live in a climate where certain punishment follows in the form of shaming, job loss, social pressure, and marginalization for any who dare say that heterosexuality is God’s law and that marriage between a man and a woman brings advantages and blessings found in no other way.
This is dubbed as an ultimately unkind point of view. What an irony—that the Author of love, should give us warnings for our moral safety that are deemed unloving. This is the sentiment of our time.
We live in a time where freedom of speech is perilously threatened, where entire worldviews are silenced, where people personally and professionally are gagged. In this brave new world, some things cannot be said, even if they are true.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “Our only real hope in addressing these very sensitive and difficult issues is that we are civil and listen to one another and try to understand.” As religious people, who practice civility, we should be able to expect the same.
We cannot be shamed into silence. We have the right to speak the truth as we understand it. This will take personal courage and boldness, especially as our support for the natural family becomes ever more counter culture. The Lord has given us warnings about the proper use of sexuality for our happiness and ultimate well-being. These warnings are based in His love and His perfect knowledge of consequences. To pretend He hasn’t is a terrible disservice to the rising generation.
On the pages of Meridian, we will continue to create that space for people to talk about these challenges of our time. We will be willing to say the truth that is not politically correct. In some places on the Internet, there was exultation that Meridian had taken down this article, thinking they had silenced us. This simply isn’t true.
Ultimately we took the article down because of the timing. It was just three days before a very important General Conference and we thought it unfortunate to be in the middle of a storm when we had important coverage on the calling of three new apostles. We know that what is published on Meridian ripples far and wide across the Internet.
We also sensed that some people were misunderstanding what JeaNette Smith was saying in her article.
Was some of this purposeful misunderstanding? Undoubtedly. You discuss this topic and the new speech police will put you in a corner no matter what your intentions or what you say.
What Smith was Saying and Not Saying
But we saw that Smith’s article, in fact, could be misunderstood because she discussed two kinds of choice.
She began: “Those who believe that acting on same sex attraction is wrong and those who believe acting on same sex attraction is inevitable, can likely agree on one truth: It would be nice to have a choice.”
Her first point: those who have same-sex attraction have a choice. Just because someone is same-sex attracted does not make it inevitable that they must act on it. This mirrors the Church’s position.
As Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “There shouldn’t be a perception or an expectation that the Church’s doctrines or position have changed or are changing. It’s simply not true, and we want youth and all people to understand that. The doctrines that relate to human sexuality and gender are really central to our theology. And marriage between a man and a woman, and the families that come from those marriages – that’s all central to God’s plan and to the opportunities that He offers to us, here and hereafter.
“So homosexual behavior is contrary to those doctrines – has been, always will be – and can never be anything but transgression. It’s something that deprives people of those highest expectations and possibilities that God has for us.”
He continued, “That being said, it’s important to remember a few things that people don’t always understand or remember. And that is that homosexual behavior is not the unforgivable sin. The atonement and repentance can bring full forgiveness there, and peace. And secondly, I’d say though we don’t know everything we know enough to be able to say that same-sex attraction in and of itself is not a sin. The feeling, the desire is not classified the same as homosexual behavior itself.”
This point of view is eternally true, but has become dangerously unpopular. In vogue instead is that sexuality is to be expressed wherever and whenever with whomever.
The most important thing, says the new morality, is to be who I am and do what feels good. This, in this new progressive view, is true authenticity and any thing else is oppressive. In a world that values celebrity, for example, Miley Cyrus was rewarded with more notoriety for her bi-sexual inclinations and her sexual antics.
Biblical morality has always held that unmarried heterosexuals were to be chaste. This idea did not create floods of hate mail, but now sexuality has become charged and politicized. Suggesting that someone who has same-sex attraction should make that same biblical choice not to act on any sexual urge is considered repressive, bigoted, and unkind.
Latter-day Saints who hope to raise children who will grow up and make and keep sacred covenants will have to teach them about Godly sexuality—with its opportunities and proper use—however unpopular that might be.
Smith did not say or imply that those who experience life as exclusively same-sex attracted could have been changed if their parents had been more effective in teaching them to choose heterosexuality. Same-sex inclinations are complex and not thoroughly understood. She did not suggest a guilt-trip for parents whose children have same-sex attraction. She did not suggest that our SSA friends should be marginalized in any way or considered second-class citizens.
How Each is Valued
It is clear that while the Church will stay the course on the Lord’s standards of marriage and sexuality, there is deep concern that those with same-sex attractions not feel excluded or unvalued. We are all precious in the sight of the Lord—the one and the ninety and nine.
One of the most powerful experiences of our lives was an affirmation of this truth. We were in an airport in a far away city. When we arrived at the desk to check our bags, we were told that our tickets on the flight back to our destination had been inadvertently canceled. Though we were listed as passengers, the tickets were invalid.
We talked to the agent behind the desk, then to her supervisor, and then to her supervisor and all said the same thing, “I’m sorry. You’ll have to buy new tickets if you want to be on this flight.” They acknowledged it wasn’t our fault and that an agent in another city had mistakenly done this, but they said, there was simply nothing they could do. We would simply have to buy new tickets—or, we supposed, stay forever in this airport.
Tickets home from this far away place, purchased on the same day as the flight were over $2,500 dollars a piece, and we stood dumbfounded and worried and helpless before the problem. But we were also calm.
Then, summoned to the problem was the supervisor of them all. Unlike everyone else who seemed to have no concern for our plight, he cared and he said he’d figure out how to help us.
Then, out of the blue he said to us, “You’re Latter-day Saints, aren’t you?”
“How’d you know?” we asked. “I could see it in you,” he answered.
It wasn’t just that we were in a needy circumstance or that we were definitely the only three Latter-day Saints in this giant, international, but distant airport. We just had an affinity for each other, as if we were long lost siblings. Love flowed between us so tangibly, if we had the right instruments you could have measured it.
As we talked together, we learned that he was same-sex attracted, was living with a partner, and had distanced himself from the gospel he truly loved. He wept when he spoke of it, and we joined him. But something else was also so clear.
This whole meeting had been carefully orchestrated by the Lord. In more ways than we can easily explain here, but in ways that were too unmistakable to be coincidental, he knew that we had been specifically sent to talk to him that day, just as he was to us when we needed help. We had been sent with a message from the Lord of love. We felt powerfully God’s love for this man and our brother. It was transcendent and transforming for all three of us. We can’t write of it now without feeling the spirit of it again.
There are times in our lives when we feel not only our love for someone else, but specifically God’s love for them. It is as if for these few minutes, you get to taste a portion of that undeniable sweetness that is the Lord’s love. That’s how it was. As we told him what we were feeling, he felt it too. We were in a cascade of light together and we will never forget it.
All too soon the announcement was made that our flight was leaving and we reluctantly left this circle of friendship. We were the last ones on the plane and shook our heads again and again at the miracle we had just witnessed. God had told each of us in that circle that He loved us in such specific ways. The orchestration to create that moment was more than any human hand could have done.
The Important Message Smith Gave
But the second kind of choice that Smith addressed was equally as important.
As a therapist, Smith has wept with her clients who have felt deep losses and confusion over their sexuality. She is seeing clients “who admitted they weren’t born gay, but wanted to give homosexuality a try.”
Experimenting with all brands of sexuality is the harrowing trend of our day. It is touted in popular media and entertainment. It is praised in the press. It appeals because it appears to be edgy and creative. It appeals to the vulnerable and the fragile. And it leaves so many of them broken in essential ways and in therapists’ offices.
Some studies suggest that 7 to 8% of the population may be fluid—at least in their early years—in their sexuality—and this group is particularly vulnerable. But when something becomes the mode of the day, the thinking of the time, many more are more vulnerable than you would think.
One mother came crying to me because her daughter had joined the basketball team in her nearby college. The coach was a charismatic and powerful same-sex attracted woman. Before the end of the season, the entire team decided, they, too, were lesbian. How had this happened? The mother said she’d never seen any expression of this as her child was growing up.
A Time of Sexual Chaos
Make no mistake. We live in a time of sexual chaos. Gender itself is being deconstructed. We are not just boys and girls, men and women anymore. Instead, you are free to choose your gender and then the expression of your sexuality. When you consider this, the question “Can You Help Your Children Choose Heterosexuality?” becomes much more essential.
A few years ago parents in Massachusetts were up in arms when their kindergarteners were exposed to a book against their parents’ wishes—Heather has Two Mommies. That seems almost quaint against the wave of teachings children will receive today, encouraging them to explore their sexuality.
Look what our society embraces. Facebook now has 51 gender options and if that isn’t enough, you are able to add your own in a free-form field.
As one writer helpfully describes this, “gender is more about your personal sense of who you are….Just as sex is often talked about as male/female, gender is often thought about as being man or woman. However, this binary gender system is inadequate for understanding the gender of all humans.”
The Massachusetts Department of Education has now eradicated sexual distinctions from public schools. The law defines gender identity as “a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior,” which is not determined by “the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.”
“This requires schools to let children use bathrooms and play on sports teams according to the gender they personally identify as theirs, not their anatomical sex…Under Massachusetts law, the connection between gender identity and sexual distinction is now considered a historical accident, the result of arbitrary (at best) or mistaken documentation at birth.”
“One’s gender identity is an innate, largely inflexible characteristic of each individual’s personality that is generally established by age four, although the age at which individuals come to understand and express their gender identity may vary based on each person’s social and familial social development. As a result, the person best situated to determine a student’s gender identity is that student himself or herself.”
Oh, what are we doing to this rising generation? What are we doing to ourselves? The clarity of the gospel becomes ever more important and our obligation to save our children from pain becomes ever more crucial in this confused world.
But it will not be easy. Others will try to paint you into a corner and label you an extremist if you do not embrace these new views. It will be difficult to be labeled as unkind and unloving if you embrace Godly sexuality—which says that heterosexuality in marriage is His way—and that every other is a counterfeit. If it is hard for you, it will be even harder for your children.
The new version of equality demands that all sexual expression be considered equal and that it is unjust to suggest anything different. What ignited our hate mail as much as anything else was this comment by JeaNette that no matter what other gains are made, “homosexuals will still be deprived of some of the privileges afforded heterosexual couples.”
It is true; it is just not politically correct.
Those of us who see ourselves inextricably linked to each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord do not want to see our same-sex attracted friends in agony. We can help by loving each other, but we do not help by abandoning gospel principles.
We are not going to be re-publishing JeaNette’s article in its original form because we felt it motivated confusion, but many of the ideas she expressed will show up again on Meridian Magazine. Read the other articles in this round table today and watch next week for an article on what we know and don’t know about homosexuality from David Pruden, who heads the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH).