Mormon Beards Exploring the Issues: Turn It Off

This is the fifth in a series of posts addressing issues relating to gay Mormon men marrying heterosexual women. As I have previously explained, beard (as used here) refers to a slang term for the heterosexual spouse of a gay Mormon who is effectively used to conceal the husbands sexual orientation. In this post, I turn to the role that Mormon doctrine (differentiated from faith, which will be addressed in a future post) plays in the creation of new Mormon Mixed-Orientation Marriages [MoMoMs]. The post is long I apologize primarily due to extensive quotations of pronouncements by various LDS authorities on the subject of homosexuality.

It really goes without saying, but needs to be said anyway: perhaps the single most important factor that contributes to the ongoing creation of MoMoMs is Mormon theology. Mormon doctrine not only shapes the attitude of young Mormon men and women toward the Church and its pronouncements; it also profoundly affects and shapes the understanding of young Mormon men (and women) of their sexuality and, perhaps most important (for the purposes of this discussion), how they deal with a sexual identity that doesnt fit the heterosexual ideal that it is at the heart of Mormonism.

This whole subject of Mormon doctrine could be approached in a number of ways and expressed in a myriad of ways. Ill say at the outset, therefore, that the approach I utilize in this post is nothing more than that: an approach. One approach. (Read: Im not claiming its the only true and living approach.) But I think it is a valid approach, and, hopefully, it will be a useful approach. That said, I have chosen to focus upon the Mormon beliefs listed below (with others to follow in subsequent posts).

1. The LDS Church is the only true and living Church on the face of the earth.

2. The Church is led and guided by a living prophet (i.e., the President of the Church) who is the mouthpiece of God. He is assisted by apostles who are also divinely appointed and inspired (the Prophet and apostles often collectively referred to as the Brethren).

These two beliefs serve as the foundation for all other Mormon beliefs. To faithful Mormons, the LDS Church is Christs church, restored to the earth in the latter day, the only church on earth that holds the authority to baptize, confirm, and otherwise administer ordinances that are required for salvation. Read: There is no salvation (i.e., no saving ordinances = same thing) outside the LDS Church.

Faithful Mormons also believe that Christ is the head of the LDS Church and actively leads and guides it through the instrumentality of His chosen prophet (i.e., the President of the Church), who is in turn assisted in this work by other apostles. Whatever is spoken by these prophets and apostles becomes scripture in the minds of most LDS because it reflects the mind and will of the Lord (although there have been very few additions to the official canon of LDS scripture since the death of the Churchs founder, Joseph Smith).

Youth in the Church, and particularly missionaries, are taught that obedience is the first law of heaven, which basically means that it has effectively become, in our day, the first principle of the Gospel (rather than faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as Joseph Smith taught). They are taught to obey the commandments (which loosely refers to a code of conduct that entitles one to be considered worthy to enter into a temple of the Church), and to obey leaders, which includes giving heed to their pronouncements and counsel.

Of course, there are many LDS who hold more nuanced beliefs concerning the degree to and manner in which the president of the Church and the other apostles receive and convey revelation or inspired counsel and direction and how such upstream counsel meshes with ones own personal spiritual guidance; but particularly for young men fresh off their missions, following the Brethren is how one follows Christ: they are one and the same (a statement with which, I am confident, many if not most, members of the Church would approvingly concur).

So what have the Brethren had to say about homosexuality over the course of the last 40 years? Here are a few quotes:

We know such a disease [i.e., homosexuality] is curable and promise him if he will stay away from the haunts and the temptations, and the former associates, he may heal himself Elder Spencer W. Kimball, 1964

Homosexuals can be assured that in spite of all they may have heard from other sources, they can overcome and return to normal, happy living. First Presidency Letter, 1970

There is a falsehood that some are born with an attraction to their own kind, with nothing they can do about it. They are just that way and can only yield to those desires. That is a malicious and destructive lie. While it is a convincing idea to some, it is of the devil. No one is locked into that kind of life. From our pre-mortal life we were directed into a physical body. There is no mismatching of bodies and spirits. Boys are to become men –masculine, manly men — ultimately to become husbands and fathers. No one is predestined to a perverted use of these powers. Elder Boyd K. Packer, 1976

Since homosexuals have become a nationwide entity, and have come out of hiding to demand their place in the sun, many of them claim that they are what they are because they were born that way and cannot help it. How ridiculous is such a claim. It was not God who made them that way, any more than He made bank robbers the way they are. Elder Mark E. Peterson, 1978

Please notice that I use [homosexual] as an adjective, not as a noun: I reject it as a noun. I repeat, I accept that word as an adjective to describe a temporary condition. I reject it as a noun naming a permanent one

Is sexual perversion wrong? The answer: It is not all right. It is wrong! It is not desirable; it is unnatural; it is abnormal; it is an affliction Do not be misled by those who whisper that it is part of your nature and therefore right for you. That is false doctrine!

Is this tendency impossible to change? Is it preset at the time of birth and locked in? Much of the so-called scientific literature concludes that there really is not much that can be done about it. I reject that conclusion out of hand It is not unchangeable

If it is wrong, and if it is not incurable, how can it be corrected? The cause of this disorder has remained hidden for so long because we have been looking for it in the wrong place … Have you explored the possibility that the cause when found, will turn out to be a very typical form of selfishness – selfishness in a very subtle form? It is hard to believe that any individual would, by a clear, conscious decision or by a pattern of them, choose a course of deviation

Establish a resolute conviction that you will resist for a lifetime, if necessary, any deviate thought or deviate action. Do not respond to those feelings; suppress them

Elder Boyd K. Packer, To the One (1978)

God made me that way, some say [i.e., homosexual] This is blasphemy. Is man not made in the image of God, and does he think God to be that way? President Spencer W. Kimball, 1980

These were some of the pronouncements of apostles and prophets that had defined the issue of homosexuality at the point when I joined the Church and married in the 1980s. The following video clip tells the story of one Mormon couple who married in the early 80s in this environment. He knew he was gay, didnt tell her, came out many years later. They discuss their story, what happened, and how theyre dealing with it.

Though there was some softening of the doctrine in the 1990s, there was no significant change until within the past decade:

… it is clear that any sexual relationship other than that between a legally wedded heterosexual husband and wife is sinful. The divine mandate of marriage between man and woman puts in perspective why homosexual acts are offensive to God. They repudiate the gift and the Giver of eternal life. Encyclopedia of Mormonism, v. 2, Homosexuality, by Victor L. Brown (1992)

There is some widely accepted theory extant that homosexuality is inherited. How can this be The false belief of inborn sexual orientation denies to repentant souls the opportunity to change and will ultimately lead to discouragement, disappointment, and despair. President James E. Faust, 1995

The words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns [or pronouns] to identify particular conditions or specific persons. . . . It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior. – Elder Dallin Oaks, 1995

It is important to understand that homosexuality is not innate and unchangeable . What is clear is that homosexuality results from an interaction of social, biological, and psychological factors. These factors may include temperament, personality traits, sexual abuse, familial factors, and treatment by ones peers. – A. Dean Byrd, Assistant Commissioner of LDS Family Services, writing in the Ensign (official Church magazine), 1999

[Is homosexuality] a problem they [i.e., homosexuals] caused, or they were born with? Answer: I don’t know. I’m not an expert on these things. I don’t pretend to be an expert on these things. – President Gordon B. Hinckley, 2004

Having same-gender attraction is NOT in your DNA [There is a] misconception that same-gender attraction is an inborn and unalterable orientation. This untrue assumption tries to persuade you to label yourselves and build your entire identity around a fixed sexual orientation or condition. Elder Bruce Hafen, 2009

If someone seeking your help says to you, I am a homosexual, or, I am lesbian, or, I am gay, correct this miscasting it is simply not true. To speak this way seeds a doubt and deceit about who we really are. Bishop Keith McMullin (of the Presiding Bishopric), 2010

Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, He is our Father. – President Boyd K. Packer, 2010

Even though the Church (as an institution) no longer considers homosexuality curable, no longer considers merely being gay a sin and has admitted that it doesnt know what causes homosexuality the culture and background represented by the foregoing quotes is pervasively and firmly ensconced in the hearts and minds of members throughout the Church, including many parents, bishops, stake presidents and as we have recently seen general authorities, including members of the Quorum of the Twelve. (This phenomenon no doubt in part accounts for, among other things, the troubling tendency for gay members to be dealt with differently in different wards and stakes throughout the Church.)

The point, of course, is that young men in the Church were taught quite forcefully a generation ago that experiencing same-sex attraction was a grave sin, was the result of a choice and could be cured. This was the premise for the Church advising men with same sex attraction to marry women.

Though the institutional Church no longer advises gay men to marry the gay away, as reflected in comments by President Gordon B. Hinckley (see below), anecdotal evidence suggests that the old beliefs and attitudes still exist among bishops, stake presidents and mission presidents. In other words, the old counsel to marry the gay away is still being given, albeit less formally.

Furthermore, if one examines President Hinckleys actual words carefully, one sees some things lurking among the weeds that are never mentioned by those who like to use this quote to defend the Church. He actually said:

Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices, which first should clearly be overcome with a firm and fixed determination never to slip to such practices again (emphasis added).

See the background attitudes? I think there is a fair inference that President Hinckley believed that, though marriage shouldnt be used as a therapeutic tool to overcome homosexuality, there were therapeutic measures available that could accomplish this goal (e.g., clearly be overcome). There was enough grist there for Dean Byrd to put the following gloss on President Hinckleys words, immediately following the above quotation, in a 1999 article in the Ensign. When homosexual difficulties have been fully resolved, wrote Byrd, heterosexual feelings can emerge, which may lead to happy, eternal marriage relationships [emphasis added].

A similar situation exists regarding the Churchs teaching with respect to merely being gay (i.e., as opposed to acting on ones same-sex attraction), which has evolved from 30 years ago to the point where the official position of the Church (to the extent there is one) is now that merely being gay is not a sin. Once again, however, this official position is filtered through the minds of bishops, stake presidents and mission presidents throughout the Church.

The fact remains that there is still an overwhelming dogmatic stigma in the Church that attaches to homosexuality. (And I think it should be noted that the Church is both a religion/theology and a culture comprised of doctrine, practices, procedures and cultural overlays over all three; all of these aspects/elements of what constitutes the Church impact the LDS position on homosexuality.)

Reparative therapy is still very much alive. Evergreen is thriving, apparently. Despite advances in science and societal understanding of homosexuality, the plain fact of the matter is that most devout young Mormon men who suffer from same sex attraction do not, because of the Churchs historical teachings regarding homosexuality, want to be saddled with this attraction and will go to great lengths to deny it and, failing that, to demonstrate that it can be overcome through the Mormon ideal of temple marriage.

I close this lengthy post with the song Turn it Off from the Book of Mormon Musical, which, in my view, is spot on as to what it says about same-sex attraction (and Mormon cognitive dissonance generally).

19 thoughts on “Mormon Beards Exploring the Issues: Turn It Off

  1. They certainly did nail it, and the choreography makes it even better. You’ll hear some clapping, which is a light being turned off by a clapper…. And when the lights come back on, the missionaries are wearing pink sequined vests. It’s genius. Rory O’Malley, who plays Elder McKinley (the not-so-closeted DL), is up for a Tony.

    One of the things I really like about Elder Price, the main character, is that he ultimately refuses to “turn it off.” As a result he completely loses his faith, but decides to remain LDS, on his own terms, because it’s as much his church as anyone else’s. He’d probably fit in at MSP. :-)

  2. Yep, the stars aligned and I got to see it. If you’ve got vacation money saved up, a trip to NYC is work spending it on right now (provided you can get tickets).

  3. It’s probably a sad commentary on my character that my enjoyment of that tune is tinged with Schadenfreude: look what spending $20 million gets ya’ … a hit show on Broadway named after your holy book. Then I remember it’s not me being petty, it’s Karma.

  4. look what spending $20 million gets ya a hit show on Broadway named after your holy book. Then I remember its not me being petty, its Karma.

    a hit show with a chorus singing God’s admonition to your prophet: “Joseph Smith, don’t f*** the baby!”

  5. It’s interesting that the quote by President Hinckley is such high circulation, given the fact that its commonly quoted, abbreviated form completely misrepresents what was said. Guess who started this? The Church itself. Notice how Hinckley is quoted in the Wickman-Oaks interview, which is listed on the Church’s web site as its official statement on homosexuality.

    PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Is heterosexual marriage ever an option for those with homosexual feelings?

    ELDER OAKS: We are sometimes asked about whether marriage is a remedy for these feelings that we have been talking about. President Hinckley, faced with the fact that apparently some had believed it to be a remedy, and perhaps that some Church leaders had even counseled marriage as the remedy for these feelings, made this statement: Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices. To me that means that we are not going to stand still to put at risk daughters of God who would enter into such marriages under false pretenses or under a cloud unknown to them. Persons who have this kind of challenge that they cannot control could not enter marriage in good faith.

    On the other hand, persons who have cleansed themselves of any transgression and who have shown their ability to deal with these feelings or inclinations and put them in the background, and feel a great attraction for a daughter of God and therefore desire to enter marriage and have children and enjoy the blessings of eternity thats a situation when marriage would be appropriate.

    President Hinckley said that marriage is not a therapeutic step to solve problems.

    Oaks puts a period where an ellipsis should properly be used and obscures the fact that Hinckely’s sentence has been truncated. Frankly, I never thought to look up the original source and took the Church’s word for the integrity of the quotation. (Old habits die hard.)

    When a document is circulated for internal review in an organization, caveats and qualifiers attach themselves like barnacles on a ship. The Oaks/Wickman interview reads as if it has been edited by committee. You can tell by the number of phrases that appear to be tacked on and that weaken the overall coherence of the argument. Reviewers tend to add qualifiers rather than delete text. I know I’m engaging in a bit of speculative Kremlinology here, but the clause “that they cannot control” in the first paragraph of the answer reads likes an addition. Read the paragraph without it and the text makes much more sense. The second paragraph is so confused and convoluted as to be unreadable. Again, this is likely an artifact of edit by committee. Who knows what was originally proposed in the draft that was circulated for review.

    The lack of overall coherence in this official statement is evidence that change is occurring and that it is being resisted. By design, the official statement can be interpreted to justify just about any position you want on this issue. Yes, they’ve pulled back from their earlier position that mixed-orientation marriage is the solution, but they’ve intentionally weakened the statement to allow it to be ignored.

  6. Thanks MoHoHawaii for your always insightful and relevant comments.

    There are several things that bother me about Oaks’ statement. First, he glosses over the fact, which he was surely aware of, that the Church actively counseled gay men to marry. Second, he further masks this whole issue as a defense of young women (where was the Church’s interest before, when it was counseling young gay men to marry and, according to some accounts, not tell their wives about their “issues”). Third, I agree with your observations about qualifications, etc. The end result is a distinct lack of clarity; but one is led to suspect that this was perhaps their objective, because this whole dichotomy they have constructed between thoughts and acting on thoughts is a slippery slope that really does not apply in the same way that it does in a heterosexual context.

  7. Here is Hinckley’s original statement, not truncated:

    Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices, which first should clearly be overcome with a firm and fixed determination never to slip to such practices again.

    Part of the turning point in the 1980s had to do with the fact that some gay Mormon men who were not telling their wives they were having sex with men were infecting their wives with HIV. (Hinckley’s statement about “marriage as not a cure,” for instance, is uttered in his statement about AIDS). I can understand why Oaks has a sudden “concern” about women here, but I agree, Invictus, that he is being ridiculously self-serving when he says: “Hinckley, faced with the fact that apparently some had believed it to be a remedy, and perhaps that some Church leaders had even counseled marriage as the remedy for these feelings,” when in fact, every single Church leader, including Hinckley and Oaks had followed a “cure” policy as laid about by Kimball in the 1960s. By self-serving, I mean this in the same way that Obama doesn’t say bad things about Bush out of some kind of respect for the institution.

    But the evil here is that in upholding the Church leaders this way, they negate the pain of the cure policy, creating a trauma that they then blame on gay people for “misunderstanding their position.” This is clear what is happening when Oaks says at some other point in the interview that they “don’t take responsibility” for the past. He literally says this.

    I would have to disagree about the coherence, though. “That they cannot control” is not about “cannot control being gay” but rather “cannot control an impulse to have sex with men.”

    Unfortunately, this “put at risk daughters of God” bit is about AIDS and disease and actions and not as much about the woman and man’s sexual/emotional compatibility. I do think, however, since Mormons now consider sex in marriage to not just be about reproduction, much more thought gets put into the matter than before. As Holly and others have discussed here, the problem now is of naivete and an information campaign. Still, there are so many narratives out there of functional MoMs that another policy change, IMO, is gonna have to be a theological one, in which there’s a recognition that the Church’s ideas about gender don’t match that well with the world.

  8. Re #10

    I would have to disagree about the coherence, though. That they cannot control is not about cannot control being gay but rather cannot control an impulse to have sex with men.

    This is exactly the source of the incoherence. Pivoting on sexual history derails the discussion about the importance of sexual orientation in mate selection. As a result, the statement succeeds in simultaneously communicating two mutually exclusive positions (for gay men, at least– lesbians aren’t mentioned in the policy). Paraphrased, these two positions are:

    “LDS local leaders were formerly directed by the Church to recommend mixed-orientation marriage as a “remedy” for male homosexuality. President Hinckley stopped this practice. The Church now wants to protect daughters of God from the enormous risks of such marriages. If you are a man who is primarily attracted to other men, you cannot in good faith marry a woman.”

    and

    “If you are a man who is primarily attracted to men, the Church feels that it is appropriate for you to marry a woman as long as you first work to achieve the following “worthiness” criteria: 1) if you have had sex with men in the past, you must confess this to your Bishop and go through Church discipline, 2) you should have a proven history of being able to abstain from male sexual contact for some period of time, 3) you must repress your homosexual feelings and identity (it is not necessary that these go away; you just need to “turn it off” and put them in the background), 4) you must feel “great attraction” for the woman you will marry (chaste affection or admiration is sufficient), and 5) you must want a family and children and life in the Church. Your incentive is that male/female marriage is the only way to enjoy the blessings of eternity.

    Younger and more liberal Mormons take the first reading; most older Mormons as well as conservative Mormons take the second reading. Problem solved (except for the thousands upon thousands who are the collateral damage of the marriages that result).

    This kind of mixed message reminds me of chicken patriarchy, a term used by some Mormon women for the Church’s incoherent policy that male/female marriage is an equal partnership where the male presides. In both cases, the official policy attempts to satisfy conservatives and progressives at the same time while actually just demonstrating the poverty of the Church’s ethical thinking.

  9. Re #10

    Unfortunately, this put at risk daughters of God bit is about AIDS and disease and actions and not as much about the woman and mans sexual/emotional compatibility.

    Personally, I see no evidence in the text for this reading. Also, by 2006 or 2007 when the Oaks/Wickman piece was written, AIDS was long off center stage.

  10. Personally, I see no evidence in the text for this reading … AIDS was long off center stage

    If church leaders were really centralizing women’s sexual/emotional interests when coming up with this “new” policy, then I would think an interview about homosexuality twenty years later would have included at least one reference to lesbian desire. But no, it’s still male-centered. So, it’s worth thinking about why there’s this “pseudo-focus” on women’s interests.

    Oaks was speaking in hindsight, about why Hinckley said what he said when he said it. By the late 1980s the patriarchs would have been hearing about HIV spreading to straight people. The word “risk” to me conjures something different than risking a [straight] woman’s happiness, but her body. They were fearful for their “babymakers.”

    Which is why I don’t think there’s an incoherence. It’s the same-ol’-same-ol’.

  11. In both cases, the official policy attempts to satisfy conservatives and progressives at the same time while actually just demonstrating the poverty of the Churchs ethical thinking.

    I think this statement is brilliantly incisive. Their whole “policy”, in a way, is to work all the way around “sexual orientation”, pretending such a thing doesn’t exist, working within the traditional heterosexual “moral cleanliness” parameters, all the while trying to put a different spin on their teachings of the past 40 years so as to make them appear progressive.

  12. make them appear progressive

    But in MoHoHawaii’s first paraphrased “progressive” position, the only option for the gay man who doesn’t marry a woman is celibacy (since choosing to be with a man is outside the purview of what is accepted). And I don’t think that celibacy is being considered a legitimate route in the culture. Rather, celibacy is described as, “well, if you’re not married, you’re celibate, but you really should be married.” In a 2007 article, Holland talks about a gay man he knows in his 30s who isn’t “yet married” and he “weeps” for him.

    So I don’t see how the leaders are attempting to satisfy progressives; I don’t think their reasons for gay men not marrying women is as woman-interested as MoHoHawaii makes it out to be.

  13. Alan points out that neither a requirement for lifelong celibacy nor a requirement for mixed-orientation marriage is a progressive position. I agree. Further, for the vast majority of people, the two options aren’t even workable. (I doubt 1 person in 100 is capable of lifelong celibacy; I’d guess that the percent of mixed-orientation marriages that eventually end in divorce is in the 80% to 90% range, and the ones that don’t end in divorce are not necessarily happy unions.)

    LDS progressives tend to hold the position “God will judge in the end” which is dusted off whenever an official policy results in obvious injustice, as is the case here. Many LDS progressives think that gay people should leave the Church as a matter of self-preservation. These folks hope for a future change in policy that would allow fellowship of same-sex couples and the recognition of their marriages.

    Flawed as it is, I think the current policy, to extent that it discourages the formation of mixed-orientation marriages, is a small step in the right direction.

  14. It’s progressive in the sense of “progress.” That is, it’s based on the experience that gay-to-straight “therapy” doesn’t work, and on the experience of so many MOMs that have painfully crashed and burned. Plenty of faithful Mormons are painfully and personally aware of these experiences, and they don’t want the church actively recommending these rotten “cures”.

    Since it leaves gay men in the position of being celibate, second-class citizens for life, it’s not exactly “progressive” in the familiar sense of the word. However, note that the faithful are generally more-or-less OK with the idea that callings, blessings, and trials can be “right” without being fair (according to our human understanding of the word “fair”).

  15. Respondeing to the whole ‘Marriage’ theme . . . My situation seems to be at least somewhat different than those outlined to date.

    I grew up in the 60’s somehow totally disconnecting my being gay from my being Mormon. I was absolutely gay but completely bought into the whole plan for Mormon boys: go on a mission and get married in the temple. I was too naive to understand the disconnect between the two opposite realities. So I went on a mission, which I loved, came home and two years later got married.

    I still did not see the problem. I was gay, but Mormon boys got married in the temple, so as a Mormon boy I just got married. I was neither trying to cover up my gay orientation or trying to mislead a young Mormon woman. I was just doing what was expected without really thinking about it.

    As I matured and started to actually think for myself I finally realized what I had done. Suddenly I saw the disconnect. That is when I faced my dilemma: ::shock!:: I am gay and here I am married to a woman. No wonder things aren’t working out the way they’re “supposed to!” That’s when I started to come out of the Mormon closet.

    But a strange thing had happened. Even though we were sexually incompatible we had grown to truly love each other. We had established a professional symbiotic relationship. We decided that regardless of the fact that I was gay (and had continued to be actively gay through all of these phases) we would rather live together than live apart.

    And so we have remained married. We do not have any semblance of a traditional marriage, but most of our Mormon friends think we do.

    In keeping this posting short, I’ve way over-simplified things, but in a nutshell, this is an alternative example of one gay Mormon marriage.

  16. @18 – Scott, thanks so much for your comments. I think your experience as a boy and young man is probably virtually identical to many, many men. I also suspect your dawning awareness of what was actually going on (behind your “Mormon mask” – you know, the one that we have all worn at one time or another) is similar to the experience of many other men.

    I have to wonder just how many mixed-orientation marriages there are which are similar to what you have described as now existing between your wife and you. I suspect that there are more than a few. I am curious as to your reference to “actively gay” and what that encompasses, and what this implies about the “boundaries” in your marriage. If you feel you’d like to comment on this, I would be interested.

    I assume you are familiar with my blog: invictuspilgrim.blogspot.com. Your comments, perspectives and insights would be valued there.

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