Two weeks ago the LDS Church released a new video at mormonandgay.lds.org highlighting the story of a family that actively embraces their gay son within the bounds of Mormonism, presumably in a way condoned by the Church. The video dispels common myths and portrays a loving family that accepts their son even though he is neither trying to change himself nor remain a celibate member of the Church. It’s a first in a lot of ways, and a positive one at that.
I’ve been wanting to talk about this new video, but have been waiting to digest it. It’s something that I really want to be happy about and that I really want to like, but it’s also something that just makes me feel sad. My head tells me this is a positive step in a very progressive direction, but something in my heart just isn’t on board.
I wanted to sort out my feelings before writing about them. Meanwhile, the Church published an article in the Ensign, its official magazine, titled The War Goes On. In it, Elder Larry R. Lawrence says, “Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, but same-sex marriage is only a counterfeit. It brings neither posterity nor exaltation. Although [Satan’s] imitations deceive many people, they are not the real thing. They cannot bring lasting happiness.”
Well thank you very much, Larry, for telling me what my experience (which is different than your experience) can and can’t be.
Let’s go back to the video—the one that shows a real family with a proper mom and dad.
The first time I watched this new video, I saw my family in it and the families of many people I love. There is definitely something distinctively Mormon about them! (could it be the seven children?)
The son, mom, and dad all recount the story of the son’s coming out. The details of his story are certainly different than my own, but the reaction of the parents over the next few years is familiar. At first they try to fix it and make it go away. There is silence; there is bargaining; there is misunderstanding; there is all the familiar hallmarks of coming to eventually understand and accept. And in the end there is love and mutual respect with the family staying in the Church but embracing a son who is gay and not in the Church. They arrive at a place not unlike my own place in my family today.
So if the end is happy and the overall message is one of love and acceptance, why does this video make me so sad?
I know we’ve come a long way. When I was a kid, I was given literature from the prophet Spencer W. Kimball that read “to those who say that [homosexuality] or any other evil is incurable, I respond: ‘How can you say the door cannot be opened until your knuckles are bloody, till your head is bruised, till your muscles are sore? It can be done.’” Now the Church has acknowledged that you can’t change a gay person with therapy, marriage to a member of the opposite sex, or prayer.
When I was going through my own journey that paralleled the young man in the video, Elder Oaks was telling parents not to allow their gay children to bring partners into the house or to acknowledge the relationship publicly (both things contradicted plainly in this video). BYU was still kicking out students for the “advocacy of homosexuality.” Now there is a advocacy group that meets on campus.
So clearly in the past 10 years or so, things have changed a great deal for the better, and I’m glad. I want to acknowledge, celebrate, and encourage the enormous strides the Church (and its people!) have made.
At the end of the day, no matter how many times this young man’s mom and dad tell him that they love him, he is not allowed to be a member of their Church (HIS Church). He is not allowed to have his children baptized in the Church. The Church still actively fights gay marriage and the public accommodation of those who are married. If he does get married, it will be a marriage deemed counterfeit by the Church. He can be accepted, but only as an outsider. You can see the pain of that dissonance behind his mother’s eyes.
In some ways, I think this new video is actually more cruel then Spencer W. Kimball’s book. The end premise is still the same: you can’t be openly, actively gay and remain a member of the Church or have exaltation in the next life. The only difference is that now they say it nicely.
That is what was bothering me about the video. It wasn’t meant to encourage Mormon families to actually accept their gay children. It was only meant to encourage them to be nice about it.
The father recalls his wife’s request for him after learning their son was gay to “Be kind, please be kind,” and he adds, “[it] is sad that she even had to tell me that.”
The mom emphasizes how her home is always open to visitors, no matter who they are!
The son attributes his own niceness (and I would add enormous generosity) to Mormonism. “How I treat people and my respect for others has so much to do with how I was brought up and raised in the gospel.”
In fact, the moment of truth for the dad in coming around to accept his gay son is when he realizes that he hasn’t always been nice. He describes, “Once that hit me, the pain and the suffering and all the jokes that I told him, all the mean comments, all the times that I said something snide about someone else to the whole family and him sitting in that backseat thinking ‘my dad has no idea that he’s talking about me’—all those times just came flooding back to me … from that time on it’s been an about-face.”
The moral of the story is that when a gay person comes out of the closet, a good Mormon will say “I love you” and be nice.
But that gay person is still sinning, and you better have raised them to know better. And they won’t be able to join you in the Celestial Kingdom, not unless they become straight in the next life and take a wife or two. And if they do get married, we will automatically hold a disciplinary council—a Court of Love—to excommunicate them.
Do you know what I have to say about this kind of niceness that the Church is publishing? This kind of being nice in word, but not in action, is only a counterfeit. It brings neither harmony nor true peace. Although the Church’s imitations of niceness deceive many people, they are not the real thing. They cannot bring lasting happiness.