I was going to write about the appalling remarks by Wendy Watson Nelson, wife of the last post’s subject, Russell Nelson, but really, what can you way about someone who thinks it’s a good thing for gay church members to become desperate enough to pray for God to change their sexual orientation? There’s so much wrong with that, I don’t know where to start. Suffice it to say that it’s been unnerving and a little depressing to see the LDS church take so many steps backwards in the last few months. For an excellent discussion of where things stand (at least for me), see Greg Prince’s blog: The Exclusion Policy and Biology vs. Behavior.
I once knew a woman who would say the nastiest, most personally demeaning things to other people, and when the target of her attacks took offense, she would shrug and say, “I’m sorry the truth offends you. I’m not being mean. I’m just telling it like it is.” Invariably, these personal attacks were part of an effort to play people off each other. In her mind, those who really cared about her and respected her would accept “the truth,” and she could in some weird, twisted way feel she had helped them and bonded with them. The reality was that she caused a lot of hurt and pain, and most of her family and neighbors resented her deeply. A few particularly insecure family members took every criticism to heart and tried in vain to gain her approval. Of course, she never gave it, and the cycle of hurt continued until she died. Come to think of it, I don’t think it ended with her death; family members are still hurting from her nastiness over the years.
Some religious groups follow this same pattern. I knew a man who had been a Jehovah’s Witness, and he told me that, when they went door to door proselytizing, they would sometimes try to get people angry with them, as they felt they would be blessed for being hated and persecuted, as the scriptures say. It seems to be part of the motivation of the Westborough Baptist Church’s “God hates fags” program. Often used as a justification for intentional division is Jesus’ statement in Matthew 10:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
This theme is expanded in the Book of Mormon in 1 Nephi 16:
And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for itcutteth them to the very center.
As I said, the problem is when the division is intentional and unnecessary, and it usually happens because someone is trying to assert dominance and exclude those who won’t accept their dominance. When called on it, people always say they’re just telling the truth, and it’s not their problem if you find truth offensive.
It’s this weird “I’m only saying this for your own good” attitude that explains, at least for me, the church’s retrograde statements and policy changes in the last few months. Like the woman I knew, there’s an unsubtle message behind the “truth-speaking” going on: you are with us, or you are against us, and you must choose which side you’re on.
I’m sure a lot of people will take issue with what I just said, but it’s the only thing that makes sense to me at this point. Witness where the church has gone in the last few months:
Almost exactly one year ago, the LDS church was using the relationship between Tom Christofferson (Apostle Todd Christofferson’s gay brother) and his LDS ward as an example of how gays and the LDS church could find harmony. According to KUTV, Elder Christofferson noted that his brother had “returned to the faith” and he and his partner were “active participants in their neighborhood ward.” In November, we learned that the church now considers Tom Christofferson and his partner to be “apostates,” which would preclude them from any kind of participation in the ward beyond attendance. This month, Apostle Russell Nelson doubled-down by affirming that the policy excluding gays and their children from church blessings was given by revelation from God.
In 2012, the official church web site, mormonsandgays.org, acknowledged that same-sex attraction is not something that people can change but that it was something to be “borne” or “endured” in the hope that it might change in the next life:
We believe that with an eternal perspective, a person’s attraction to the same sex can be addressed and borne as a mortal test. It should not be viewed as a permanent condition. An eternal perspective beyond the immediacy of this life’s challenges offers hope. Though some people, including those resisting same-sex attraction, may not have the opportunity to marry a person of the opposite sex in this life, a just God will provide them with ample opportunity to do so in the next. We can all live life in the full context of who we are, which is much broader than sexual attraction.
Just over a week ago, the church published on the LDS.org web site a talk that suggested that, if gay members would only get “desperate” enough, they could through prayer have their sexual orientation changed:
Gratefully, the Savior has paid the price for every gift of the Spirit we will ever need to help us. It’s up to us to prayerfully discover which gifts we need. We may need the gift of self-discipline or of cheerfulness. Perhaps we need the gift of patience, or the gift to be healed, or the gift to forgive. Perhaps we need the gift to have our sexual feelings be in harmony with eternal laws. Perhaps we realize that we cannot live one more minute without the gift of unshakable faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. When we’re desperate for any gift of the Spirit, that is when we will finally pray with all the energy of heart for that gift. And the great news is that each spiritual gift we receive takes us one more step forward into our true selves. …
I pray that this year you will have some moments of anguishing desperation that will propel you further along the path to becoming the man or woman you were born to be. Your true self is spectacular! Never settle for less.
The problem, of course, is that desperation only drives change where change is possible. Say I decided that I am not the man I was born to be because the physical condition I was born with makes it difficult for me to swallow some kinds of food without extreme care. I’ve had many medical procedures to make it easier for me to swallow, but my doctors tell me I’ve progressed as far as I’m going to go. I suppose I could become desperate to change this aspect of my body, enough so that I would pray that God would “heal” me and make me the person I was born to be. After all, I shouldn’t settle for less.
What would be the end result? All the prayer in the world isn’t going to change the fact that I have a narrow part of my esophagus ringed with scar tissue. If I followed Sister Nelson’s counsel, in the near-certain absence of change, my desperation would turn to despair. At some point I would be forced to accept that I can’t change that aspect of my body, or I would give in to despair, which derives from the Latin de esperare–literally “without hope.” Given my history with depression, I have a pretty good idea where things would end.
If the church itself acknowledges that sexual orientation–whatever its roots–isn’t something you can will or pray away, what is the point of Sister Nelson’s wholly inappropriate remarks? Does she–a trained and licensed therapist–really believe gay Mormons can and should follow her counsel to change their “sexual feelings”? I doubt it very much.
What this is about is drawing clear lines between the church and “the world.” If we take her at her word, the problem is not only behavior, but also desire, because, she wants us to believe, both can be changed. Obviously, someone who doesn’t change his or her sexual orientation through prayer and the gifts of the Spirit isn’t desperate enough. And those members who give into despair (and let’s not kid ourselves, there will be more than one) clearly didn’t channel their desperation into righteous avenues. It’s not her fault if lives are destroyed; she’s only telling it like it is.
In the end, however, I don’t believe any of this was meant for the benefit of gay or lesbian members or nonmembers. It was directed at straight members as another distinction that makes for a peculiar people. “You are not like them,” the members need to be told, “and you must not tolerate people like that in the ranks of our people.”
Like the woman I knew, the point is to divide, to pit friends and family against each other, forcing them to put the church first. It’s a destructive and wholly unrighteous game, but that is what is happening.