Monday, November 22, 2010

It gets better, 5

From the folks at Pixar Studios, here's a heartwarming "It Gets Better" video. I wish I could play this at a BYU devotional, at an MTC devotional and as a public-service announcement right before General Conference. This is a message that needs to be heard.

(Why is everyone who works for Pixar so danged cute?)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Moms are the best

From Momastery, the reflections of a mother of Christian faith about what she would say if her child told her he was gay:
And I don’t mean, Chase, that we would be tolerant of you and your sexuality. If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are, Chase, than we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated.

"Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated." How I wish her sentiments were the mainstream LDS view! Read what she has to say.

Via: D. Gregory Smith

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


*(If you know what the acronym M&P stands for, you're a real Mormon.)

I want to take a minute to comment on what the new LDS Church handbook says about masturbation and pornography (yes, M&P). What's most surprising is what's not said.


Masturbation is mentioned in only one place in the handbook and that is in an instruction to bishops and stake presidents about what does not warrant a Disciplinary Council. (The handbook refers to it with the archaic term "self-abuse.")

That's it.

Masturbation is not mentioned in the section of the handbook that describes the law of chastity. The chastity section includes language that prohibits "unholy, unnatural or impure practices." You might imagine that masturbation could be construed as one of these practices, but there's a bit of evidence against this interpretation. The very next sentence says that engaging in these practices will result in Church discipline, which is not the case with masturbation. Breaking the law of chastity appears to require more than one person in the room.

While there still is a strong LDS cultural prohibition against masturbation, we're seeing less emphasis from Church leadership. There's virtual silence on the subject of masturbation from the pulpit in General Conference. It seems as if it's evolving into a don't-ask-don't-tell situation.


Unlike masturbation, pornography has been a common topic of discourse in General Conference. Yet, from the handbook you wonder what the fuss is about. The handbook mentions pornography in exactly the same section as masturbation: it's in the list of issues that don't warrant a Disciplinary Council. Like masturbation, pornography is not mentioned in the section that defines standards for the law of chastity.

Pornography gets its own dedicated section in the handbook. However, this section mainly presents pornography using a medical metaphor: the use of pornography is seen as a kind of addiction. The language in the handbook focuses on counseling and treatment options; it contains contact numbers for LDS Social Services.


Frankly, I'm puzzled by what's going on here. I think the silence about masturbation is a sign that some kind of change is in the works, perhaps a movement toward the more mainstream view that masturbation is benign. The silence about masturbation seems at odds with the increasing rhetoric over the pulpit on the subject of pornography, rhetoric that is not backed up in the handbook by policy. Is it possible that pornography for the LDS hierarchy is more of a symbolic issue? I'm wondering if the fight against pornography is really a fight against cultural change and secularization. I don't have evidence for this conjecture, but it's an idea I'd like to explore further.

Do you have any thoughts on M&P and why the new handbook virtually omits them?

Monday, November 15, 2010

(Un)holy, (un)natural and (im)pure practices

There's a recognizable phrase that's been floating around the Church for about 30 years. The first use that I can find occurred in a letter to bishops from the First Presidency dated January 5, 1982:
The First Presidency has interpreted oral sex as constituting an unnatural, impure, or unholy practice.

I remember when this statement came out. It was mostly ignored by my liberal, East Coast university ward.

The phrase "unholy, unnatural or impure practice" appears to be an expansion of a warning in the temple ceremony against some fairly venal sins such as "lightmindedness." We are to avoid these venal sins and "every other unholy and impure practice." The context in the temple is not at all related to sexuality, so I have to conclude that the the use in the 1982 letter was a novel one, only coincidentally related to the similar language used in the temple except to give the phrase extra authority by unconscious association with the temple rite. Also, the word "unnatural" is significant addition-- it's a word that is loaded with all kinds of sexual connotations. These days it usually refers to anal sex, but it has also been used to make reference to all sexual acts that don't have the possibility of pregnancy. For example, LDS texts in the 1950s to 1970s referred to the evils of "unnatural" methods of birth control.

Shortly after the First Presidency's letter was received by bishops in 1982, a question about "unholy, unnatural, or impure practices" in the marital bed was added to the list of questions used in temple recommend interviews. There was almost an immediate backlash. The first indication of the backlash was a second letter, just about one year later, from the First Presidency saying that bishops were not to pry into a married couple's sex life. (!) Eventually, by 1986, the question was deleted from the temple recommend interview entirely.

Of course, since that time, the Church has further backed away from its prohibition of oral sex in marriage. The most recent guidance seems only to say that "if you feel guilty enough about it to ask, you shouldn't do it." The most common advice you'll hear from bishops is that if the wife objects to it, a husband doesn't press her. In general, Mormon ideas of acceptable sexuality stick to a narrower range than the mainstream culture. For the most part, heterosexual anal sex, the use of pornography as a couple, role play or any kind fetish or kink are pretty much off limits for Mormons. Sex toys (for example, a vibrator) seem to be the wild frontier for the most adventurous Mormons, but even then the Relief Society sister with her trusty strap-on and a mischievous gleam in her eye is beyond imagining.

Although the sin it originally named is no longer a sin, the phrase "unholy, unnatural, or impure practice" is still with us. It is now found in section 21.4.5 of the Church's 2010 Handbook 2:
Adultery, fornication, homosexual or lesbian relations, and every other unholy, unnatural, or impure practice are sinful.

What the current phrase means is left to the imagination. You might be tempted to view it as a reinstatement of the old prohibition against oral sex or any other "unnatural" act that doesn't lead to possible pregnancy. However, the idea that sex needs to be procreative to be holy, natural and pure is contradicted by section 21.4.4 of the handbook:
Married couples should also understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purposes of procreation, but also as a way of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife.

This all leads me to the problem that Judge Walker addressed in the court ruling that invalidated Prop. 8. Essentially, the problem is that once you define marriage as a loving partnership that includes relational aspects and not just procreation and the control of property through coverture or inheritance, it makes no sense to exclude loving same-sex couples. In other words, when the Church adopts the position that sexual relations are pure, natural and holy on their own when performed by a loving couple who are emotionally and spiritually bound to each other, then it's much harder to argue that same-sex couples who use physical intimacy to strengthen these kinds of bonds are sinful.

(To be continued...)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Church changes stance on gay marriage in CHI 2010

The 2010 edition of the Church Handbook of Instructions (CHI) contains a very different position on gay marriage than the 2006 edition. Here are the edits, with deletions in strikeout and additions in italics:

Same-Gender Marriage

Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God. The Church accordingly opposes same-gender marriages and any efforts to legalize such marriages. Church members are encouraged "to appeal to legislators, judges, and other government officials to preserve the purposes and sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, and to reject all efforts to give legal authorization or other official approval or support to marriages between persons of the same gender" (First Presidency letter Feb 1, 1994; see also "Homosexual Behavior" in the previous column).

As a doctrinal principle, based on the scriptures, the Church affirms that marriage between a man and a woman is essential to God's the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children.

The powers of procreation are to be exercised Sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife. Any other sexual relations, including those between persons of the same gender, are sinful and undermine the divinely created institution of the family. The Church accordingly favors measures that define affirms defining marriage as the legal and lawful union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship.

While opposing same-gender marriage, the Church reaches out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender. See also "Homosexual Behavior" on page 187.

This is a large change. The Church rolls back overt support or opposition of any specific marriage statute and replaces it with a vague statement that "affirms defining" marriage in a way that would exclude same-sex couples. ("Affirm" could mean just about anything in this context. It's not a strong word.) The admonition for members to get involved politically has been entirely deleted as well as opposition to civil recognition of same-sex relationships that falls short of marriage.

It's not exactly "I'm sorry, gays" but who am I to quibble? This is progress.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kremlinology, con't

Project Mayhem reports that the 2010 edition of the Church Handbook of Instructions has a significantly revised section on homosexuality.

Comparing the 2006 edition with 2010, here are the changes reported on Project Mayhem's blog. Deletions are in strikeout, insertions are in italics:

Homosexual behavior violates the commandments of God, is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality, distorts loving relationships, and deprives people of the blessings that can be found in family life and in the saving ordinances of the gospel. Those who persist in such behavior or who influence others to do so are subject to Church discipline. Homosexual behavior can be forgiven through sincere repentance.

If members have homosexual thoughts or feelings or engage in homosexual behavior, Church leaders should help them have a clear understanding of faith in Jesus Christ, the process of repentance, and the purpose of life on earth. Leaders also should help them accept responsibility for their thoughts and actions and apply gospel principles in their lives.

While opposing homosexual behavior, the Church reaches out to understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender. [This was moved from being the 2nd to 3rd paragraph]

In addition to the inspired assistance of Church leaders, members may need professional counseling. When appropriate, bishops should contact LDS Social Services to identify resources to provide such counseling in harmony with gospel principles.

[If members feel same-gender attraction but do not engage in any homosexual behavior, leaders should support and encourage them in their resolve to live the law of chastity and to control unrighteous thoughts. These members may receive Church callings. If they are worthy and qualified in every other way, they may also hold temple recommends and receive temple ordinances.]

Okay, folks, this is a pretty big change. The biggest part is the Church's discontinuation of support for scientifically discredited therapeutic techniques that attempt to change sexual orientation. Homosexual orientation is now recognized to exist and is morally neutral. The Church now asks only for celibacy; you don't have to repent anymore for being gay.

I am especially gratified to see distorts loving relationships removed from the text. Break out the champagne, boyfriend! Our love isn't a perverted caricature of human affection after all!

There's a lot that's missing from this section. For example, the CHI is still silent on the advisability of mixed-orientation marriages, even though official statements of the Church have discouraged them. This lack of clarity does a lot of damage.

Winners: good sense and reason. Losers: LDS Social Services and the reparative therapy industry.

UPDATE After posting this, I was able to review for myself the relevant section in the 2010 CHI. The section on LDS Social services is *still* in the handbook, contrary to the report I relied on for this post. Therefore, the conclusions reached in this post are not valid, and I retract them.

The rewording in this section of the CHI does reinforce the notion that homosexual orientation is morally neutral, but it does not retract the Church's support for LDS Social Services.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Colt Hansen - Rest in peace

Three days ago in Salt Lake City, Colt Hansen, a young gay man from a Mormon family, took his life. Colt participated in the SLC gay community and had worked at Try-Angles, a local gay bar. Colt's friends report that he struggled with his family over their refusal to accept him. This came to a head the night before Colt's death, when he and his father argued for the last time.

The obituary prepared by Colt's family is stunning. I'll quote a little of it. The whole thing can be found here.

Our beloved son, brother, grandson, and uncle passed away peacefully in Salt Lake City, Utah on November 3, 2010 after a severe battle with depression.

There is nothing peaceful about suicide. It is an extreme form of violence. I can assure you that Colt's last hours on this earth were the exact opposite of peaceful. It breaks my heart to think of it.

How much of Colt's "severe battle" was caused by familial rejection? Academic studies show that young gay people whose families exhibit rejecting behaviors toward them are eight times more likely to attempt suicide.

Colt loved being around his friends and family. ... Colt loved his dogs, Kasha and Travis. He was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This paragraph breaks my heart. The last communication Colt had with his family was an argument over his rejection of the LDS Church. I guess the family got the last word on the subject. Even in death they couldn't leave this one alone. I guess it could be wishful thinking on the part of the parents or attempt to reduce the family's shame over having a gay son. In any case, identifying Colt as a member of the LDS Church dishonors his life.

Colt is survived by his loving parents, Rick and Connie Hansen

I know that I in similar circumstances would not have the gall to editorialize about myself in this way. Is that adjective really needed under these painful circumstances? Does no one feel even partial regret about actions they might rethink in the face of tragedy?

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the LDS Church Missionary Fund.

This part is over the top. I am speechless at the insensitivity. The subtext is one of utter cruelty. It almost gloats. It says that Colt's life, what he chose for himself, the hopes and dreams that he nurtured, are of no importance. This one statement is the complete invalidation of a particular human life.

Colt will be buried on Tuesday, November 9.

Reading reports of the needless deaths of our beautiful young gay Mormon people should distress us all and motivate us to action. We must stanch the flow of blood.

Via: Eric Ethington

Friday, November 5, 2010


I read the following letter to advice columnist Dan Savage.

I'm a 29 year-old gay ex-Mormon who has been almost completely estranged by my extended family since coming out at 16. They live in dense Mormon communities where homosexuals have to be closeted or risk being ostracized by literally their family/friend/church communities (I lost everyone and moved out of the state, alone, at the age of 16).

I was shocked this morning to find out that I have a 16-year-old cousin who is gay and tried to kill himself a few weeks ago. Because i'm not on speaking terms with anyone outside of my immediate family—and those connections took 10 years to reestablish—the news arrived to me as gossip.

Luckily living in 2010 it wasn't hard to track him down on a social networking site. I've had a few conversations with him, but in spite of the fact that my page is covered with "It Gets Better" videos and pictures of me with various boyfriends, he's still trying to keep up a straight facade—which is the only way he can survive in Utah.

When I was his age I was the victim of a gossip torrent outing me to everyone I knew that nearly pushed me to suicide. He knows I haven't spoken to any of his family in 13 years. I don't want him to feel like this is gossip rippling through the family (which it is) or that he's been outed to his whole family (which he has).

What advice can you give me Dan? I want to respect his right to come out to me when he feels comfortable, but I also don't want to overwhelm him or wait for the next attempt. There are zero resources in his (almost 90%) Mormon community, and at least for now it won't get better.


Dan writes back:

Don't fuck around, FMB.

Get this boy's number, call him, tell him you're gay, and tell he can come and live with you, if he needs to, and that he can finish high school in a saner place, surrounded by sane people, a place where it will get better for him.

Step up, FMB, and be the hero this kid needs.—Dan

FMB replies:
Should have thought of that—got him a ticket to come out next week. Thanks.—FMB

This, dear readers, made me cry.

Why I love Mormons

I love Mormons... because of Mormons like William Bradshaw.

[Note: This video is not Bradshaw's recent lecture on homosexuality. Instead, it's a recent interview about his personal experiences with his gay son and Prop 8.]