When Love Requires Respect and Recognition

John Dehlin raises the question what we can do to stop the suicides of our children. Our children commit suicide because we deny them the love and respect that every human being requires to prosper. Unable to reconcile the Mormon idea of goodness and their gender, self-destruction appears to be the only way out.

In light of gender biology, the dogma that homosexuality is sinful can only be sustained by appeals to fear and hate, in this case, the fear of family disintegration. But the gospel is supposed to free us from fear. It is no accident that the first and the last episodes of the gospel contain the admonition to fear not.

When the angel appeared to Mary to reveal that she shall be the mother of God, he begins with the words: “Fear not!” And when Christ appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, He begins with the words “Fear not!”

Whether or not gay marriage hurts the institution of the family is an empirical question. That means that we can observe the effects of gay marriage.

In the absence of demonstrated negatives, Proposition 8 harms not only our gay children and neighbors but it undermines religious tolerance, which constitutes in part the foundation of western civilization.

Facts are stubborn things. In a free country, facts will outlast dogma. Unless western civilization collapses, may be, undermined by fundamentalism, religious homophobia is on the verge of joining the ranks of creationism and flat earth geography.

Some people fear that LDS leaders cannot possibly change their mind about homosexuality because it would amount to the surrender of the essence of the Church. The obvious reply is that it was once unthinkable to ordain Africans and their descendents that dogma has gone by the wayside. Likewise, homophobia is not a gospel principle. It is a dogma that requires the force of the government to remain sustainable.

Progress is not inevitable. Force and coercion have been able to suppress facts for generations. However, such suppression comes at a cost. In the case of homophobic denial, the suicide of our children is part of that price.

I do not know whether gender equality will benefit organized Mormonism. It is clear, however, that gender equality is more compatible with love and tolerance. More importantly, our children, gay or straight, will enjoy a healthier upbringing in a society where our love for people who do not hurt others bears the fruits of respect and recognition.

The gospel says that Christ brought us the truth and that the truth shall set us free. I cannot claim to know the truth but everything we know about homosexuality tells us that our love for our gay neighbors and children requires that we respect them.

That means that Christians shall vote no on Proposition 8. Mormons who confess their opposition openly may be heard by a desperate child who might take courage from our testimony. When enough of us do it, it will make a difference to somebody’s child.

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25 Responses

  1. Seth R. says:

    I think you’re wresting an incredibly complex family and personal phenomenon to your own agenda. LDS youths commit suicide for any number of reasons, of which religion may or may not be of primary importance. It’s hard for me to justify using suicide as an argumentative data point for reformation of Church-wide culture, or as a propaganda point for your particular views of Proposition 8.

  2. Hellmut says:

    Of course, it is correct that people commit suicide for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, there are hundreds of documented cases of suicides and suicide attempts by gay Mormon children. Together we can prevent some of them.

  3. Seth R. says:

    OK, sure. I’m even willing to admit that Mormon parents might not handle the issue as well as they could, and that the Church may have an important role in remedying that.

    How’s that?

  4. Hellmut says:

    That’s great, Seth.

  5. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    er… How About REMOVING – ELIMINATING minimyzing ‘doctrines’ that are harmful?

  6. Mark says:

    I agree with Guy Noir Private Eye with regard to eliminating or minimizing doctrines that are harmful.

    My former bishop of the San Francisco Singles Ward stated emphatically that “The Miracle of Forgiveness” is a book that needs to be burned because of the harm it’s caused so many. I couldn’t agree more. We need to recognize that what we know about homosexuality primarily comes from that book and other talks, such as those given by Boyd K. Packer, which serves to demonize gay and lesbian members who thought (like I did) it was merely a choice.

    Let’s stop recommending harmful advice to those who become aware of their sexuality and to those who are related to, or are friends of those who are gay and lesbian. Instead, let’s work harder to help them find self-acceptance, love, compassion. And let’s not be afraid to show it.

  7. Guy Noir Private Eye says:


  8. Hellmut says:

    Spencer Kimball had a troubled relationship to sexuality. In part, that may be explained by his upbringing. Apparently, several of his siblings died as children, which is unusual in a western country during the late twentieth century.
    When Ignaz Semmelweis demonstrated in the 1840s that disinfection reduced the spread of disease, child mortality decreased rapidly.
    When Sigmund Freud and my cousin Frank Wedekind demystified sexuality, venereal disease rates dropped rapidly. As men and women interacted more openly, prostitution declined substantially in European cities.
    Spencer Kimball lost four of his sisters in childhood. He contracted typhoid and suffered facial paralysis as a child. It is an extraordinarily high child mortality rate during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
    That indicates to me that his community did not have access to the best public health care practices at the time. In part, that may explain his fears of sexuality. I would need to look at Kimball’s childhood society closer but it is probably a safe bet to assume that Freud’s ideas were neither prominent nor acceptable in Mormon Arizona before World War I.

  9. Nom de Cypher says:

    I hate to be a spoiler in this discussion, but I don’t think we are making solid arguments here.

    First of all, what evidence do we have, other than Carol Lynn Pearson’s editorial, that mormon gays commit suicide at a disproportionally higher rate than other religions. And how much of this is due to religious training, rather than simply Utah culture.

    Secondly, how many bishops still use Miracle of Forgiveness to counsel gays. Mormons hate that book almost as much as exmos.

    Finally, isn’t it a mistake to frame this as a religious issue, rather than as a more broadly moral one? The fact is that bigots exist both in and out of the church. Focusing on how the church hurts these people may be effective for people, like John, who have some influence there, but does little to address the overall discrimination and hatred of gays.


  10. Matt says:

    “Religious training vs Utah culture”?

    What’s the diff?

    “Mormons hate this book almost as much as exmos”?

    Really. If that’s your idea of spoiling then I’m disappointed.

  11. Hellmut says:

    Nom, did you see John Dehlin’s interviews that I have linked in the essay?
    Since suicide and homosexuality are both taboos in Mormon culture, it is difficult to study this question systematically. However, we do know that Utah leads the nation in suicides among young adults. We also know that gays account for one third of suicides while their share of the population is in the single digits.
    In terms of data, we do have a number of cases that are documented suicides of children and adults who are desperate to reconcile their gender and their religion. I am sure that you have heard of Stuart Matis. You might want to read Bishop Eccles Hardy’s account of how LDS teachings affected his son.
    It is probably true that The Miracle of Forgiveness is less influential than it was thirty years ago but it is still being published. So is Boyd Packer’s homophobic essay To the One.
    Finally, imagine a gay child sitting in the pews having to listen to the First Presidency’s claims that families are doomed unless we discriminate against gays. That’s been happening for the entire decade and it happens right now.
    The worst of it is that this child probably has nobody he or she can safely talk to.

  12. Seth R. says:

    “However, we do know that Utah leads the nation in suicides among young adults.”

    We do?

    And yes Matt, there is a big difference between the Church and Utah culture.

  13. chanson says:

    Secondly, how many bishops still use Miracle of Forgiveness to counsel gays. Mormons hate that book almost as much as exmos.

    OK, I know this is just more anecdotal evidence, but I’ve got quite a lot of anecdotes saying that the Miracle of Forgiveness is still actively used.

    1. See this Exponent thread about it.

    2. Someone close to me was recently given a copy to read as part of the process of repentance and returning to the church.

    3. MoJo is always on about it.

  14. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    LDS ( and some other fundies) Fail to make meaningful distinctions in their non-reality based worlds. The one that would help here is between ‘wrongs’ that harm others, and those that don’t.
    other than
    a) Blasphme of the H.G. (ever known an instance of that?)
    b) Murder
    c) ‘sexual sins’, the LDS culture doesn’t have much of a sense of priorites; things are ‘thrown into a blender’; what comes out is soooooooooooooooooo Bland/homogenized AND filled with ambiguities & (endless) exceptions.
    Leaders put an extra does of ambiguities in their teachings/talks/presentation of the gospel… I really don’t blame the rank-and-file for being Clueless.
    In Morland, right/wrong a just a notch above abstractions, the leaders WANT to keep the tribe close to the teat.

  15. Hellmut says:

    The Deseret News reports in 2006:
    Utah leads the nation in suicides among men aged 15 to 24.

  16. Hellmut says:

    I agree with Chanson. The recent manual The Teachings of the Prophet Spencer W. Kimball cited The Miracle of Forgiveness extensively as well. It remains a book that continues to benefit from Kimball’s prophetic status.
    On the other hand, the book is no longer ubiquitous as it was during the late seventies and early eighties.

  17. Matt says:

    Response to Seth:

    The diff between Utah culture and religious training?

    Like the diff between sourdough bread and the yeast used to make it. Sure, they’re not the same thing but one is prescriptive of the other.

    I always love it when folks try to separate the two as if you could have one without the other. So yeah, with respect to atypical aspect of Utah Culture .. you know … the things that make it unique … if it’s good you’ll find MoMos jumping all over the “look what Mo’ism does for us” bandwagon. If it’s bad? Well, then Mo teaching and Utah culture? No direct correlation. Love it.

    You rock, Seth. 🙂

  18. Seth R. says:

    Never said there wasn’t a connection Matt.

    Now, would you say that Democracy and “American culture” are the same thing? Or would you say that American government and American culture are the same thing?

    There’s a difference between a set of beliefs or an institution, and how people implement those beliefs, and interact with those institutions.

  19. Matt says:

    You must not have read my comment. I acknowleged that they aren’t the same thing. My point is obvious. The church and it’s teachings heavily influence Utah culture from it’s very inception. The church and it’s teaching are integral to how the people live their lives. But I’ll go one further. The church is it’s people and that holy thing you imagine to be separate from the people and the whole of their worldview — that thing is a mirage. But here you are defending it from the f’ed up lives of it’s people.

    Church first indeed.

  20. Kullervo says:

    Mormonism and “Utah Culture” aren’t just connected, they’re a part of each other.

    Check out the Wikipedia article on “culture.” Religion is mentioned constantly. It’s one of the most significant vehicles for culture that exists. If there is such a thing as “Utah Culture,” it is dominated by Mormonism.

    On the other hand, major Church leaders and policymakers consistently come out of Utah and the surrounding inter-mountain west area. The people shaping the Church’s identity are almost without exception products of “Utah Culture.”

  21. Hellmut says:

    I agree with Seth that Utah culture can be a corrupting influence on Mormonism. Chieko Okazaki talked about issues such as ethnocentrism intelligently.

    Other than her talks, I am not aware of recent evidence that would indicate that the Brethren are troubled by Utah culture.

  22. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    (‘need’ I say this again?):
    the GAs/COB crew DEPEND on MoCulture to sustain the org. They ‘easily’ could draw distinctions between ‘doctrine’ (sticking Jell-O to the wall) and culture, but avoid it at any-all costs.
    IMHO that’s the driving force behind the referendum in CA.

  23. Nom de Cypher says:

    I have always found the single, unsourced, unquoted line in the Des News article to be a suspicious source for the suicide statistic. It’s possible that Utah DOES lead the nation in suicides of young men, but you can’t prove it by that useless attribution.
    As to the culture/religion debate, I would remind you all that mormon numbers are dropping rapidly. The last numbers that I saw were that Utah is only 58% mormon, and Salt Lake county is less than 50%. That doesn’t mean that mormons don’t color most aspects of life in Utah. But equating Utah and Mormon, and then using that connection to blame the church for suicides, specifically of gays is a stretch of logic that doesn’t make sense.

  24. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    Comparisons may or may not reveal anomalies; I think with the highly-defined MoCulture the comparisons are indicitive. Also we have the nation’s Lowest voter turnout, and (documentation?) Highest prescription rate for anti-depressant use.
    Being the ‘peculiar people’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

  25. profxm says:

    I tried posting a response on here earlier but it didn’t go through for some reason. Utah is, as of 2005, #15 as states go:

    And among young people #11:

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