“Are openly gay people welcomed at church or are they excommunicated? I read in the Salt Lake Tribune this morning an openly gay man was appointed a bishop’s executive secretary in a San Francisco LDS Bay Ward. Yet they (the church) actively supported Prop 8. I’m confused.”
Excellent question, and one that requires some explanation of Mormon theology. The LDS church teaches that every human being has the potential to become like God, with all His attributes and power. Our Heavenly Father sent us to live on earth to learn how to become Gods, for that is how He became God. Church founder Joseph Smith taught:
God himself, who sits enthroned in yonder heaven, is a man like one of you. That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today and you were to see the great God who holds this world in its orbit and upholds all things by his power, you would see him in the image and very form of a man. …
I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined that God was God from all eternity. [That he was not is an idea] incomprehensible to some. But it is the simple and first principle of the gospel-to know for a certainty the character of God, that we may converse with him as one man with another. God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did. …
Here, then, is eternal life–to know the only wise and true God. And you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves–to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done–by going from a small degree to another, from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you are able to sit in glory as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.
But according to Mormon teachings, one cannot become a God alone but must be “sealed” in eternal marriage to a spouse. A revelation given to Joseph Smith and recorded on July 11, 1843, explains:
And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.
Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory.
Thus, the highest, most exalted kingdom of heaven is reserved for those whose heterosexual marriages have been performed by priesthood authority in the temple and sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. In this sense, God is male and female, sealed together for eternity.
Given the status of marriage as crucial to our exaltation, there is no place in LDS theology for homosexuality. Late church president Spencer W. Kimball called homosexuality “that sin against nature”: “‘God made me that way,’ some say, as they rationalize and excuse themselves for their perversions. ‘I can’t help it,’ they add. This is blasphemy. Is man not made in the image of God and does he think God to be ‘that way’?” Apostle Boyd K. Packer stated, “If a condition that draws both men and women into one of the ugliest and most debased of all physical performances is set and cannot be overcome, it would be a glaring exception to all moral law.” In short, if God’s “great plan of happiness” is for all humans to enjoy eternal, heterosexual marriage, then homosexuality is in direct opposition to God’s plans.
This theological position explains why the LDS church has been so active in the fight against legalizing same-sex marriage. Its organization and funding were crucial to the campaign for Proposition 8 in California. But there has been a backlash against the church because it was highly visible in that campaign and others. The church has sought to mend some fences and repair some of the PR damage caused by the Prop. 8 campaign, hence the recent appointment of an “openly gay” Mormon, Mitch Mayne, to be the executive secretary to his local bishop. The Salt Lake Tribune explains, “He also was chosen specifically to help build bridges between the Bay Area’s Mormon and gay communities, a gap that was widened by the LDS Church’s overt support of Proposition 8, defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.” Mayne’s stake president calls Mayne’s assignment a “tremendous opportunity to show gays they’re welcome at our church.”
One could quibble with the idea that the position of executive secretary is a “key local LDS leadership post,” as the Tribune describes it, but what is more important is how far the church’s welcome mat extends for gays. In one sense, the church’s standards for homosexual members are the same as those for heterosexuals: “Complete sexual abstinence before marriage and total fidelity within marriage” (Church Handbook of Instructions, 1.3.2). Obviously, if same-sex marriage remains illegal, gay Mormons are expected to remain celibate, as the church recognizes that “marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices.”
However, the church has made it clear that sexual abstinence is not enough for gay members to remain “worthy.” For example, the BYU Honor Code contains the following statements about homosexuality:
Brigham Young University will respond to homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or attraction and welcomes as full members of the university community all whose behavior meets university standards. Members of the university community can remain in good Honor Code standing if they conduct their lives in a manner consistent with gospel principles and the Honor Code.
One’s stated same-gender attraction is not an Honor Code issue. However, the Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity. Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.
Thus, even activities that would not cause even a small problem for heterosexual members, such as kissing or holding hands, are potentially grounds for dismissal from church-sponsored schools. Indeed, it was just such a display of same-sex affection that led to the arrests of two men at the church’s Main Street Plaza in 2009.
So, are gays welcome in the LDS church? Yes, if they are willing to abide by the church’s standards. Mitch Mayne was called after he broke things up with his partner: “Mayne was in a committed, monogamous relationship with a man, but that ended a year ago. Since then, Mayne said, he has lived by LDS standards, and his ecclesiastical leaders found him worthy to serve.” Presumably, if Mayne becomes involved in a homosexual relationship again in the future, he will not be found worthy to serve. Significantly, he did not promise “a lifetime of celibacy,” which to my mind means he’s serving on his own terms, which I find somewhat praiseworthy.
However, it’s just a bit disingenuous of Mayne to say, ““No one is going to ask you to give up your partner before entering the door.” In essence, by asking you to give up all intimacy, sexuality, and even expressions of affection, the church is asking you to sacrifice your relationship with your partner. That seems to work for some people, including Mitch Mayne–at least for now.