Dang it to heck. Just when things were going so well between the LGBT community and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Quorum of the Twelve President Boyd K. Packer delivered his Sunday-morning talk "Cleansing the Inner Temple" at the 180th October General Conference.
President Packer is a highly respected LDS Church authority, and for decades, has been a source of spiritual guidance for millions of church members worldwide.
Now, it is not easy for one such as me, a random queer schmuck with a blog, to respond effectively to the words of such a widely beloved man without coming across as presumptuous and impudent. President Packer is one of the most brilliant speakers within the LDS Church hierarchy. His sermons are always barnburners, and his gift for metaphor is truly inspiring*.
I want to make clear that I mean no disrespect to the man, and I hold sacrosanct his 1st Amendment right to express his beliefs -- even those with which I may disagree, or which I find hurtful.
One such belief, common among older generations of religious conservatives, is the idea that gays and lesbians don't really exist -- only individuals afflicted with a malady known as "same-sex attraction." It's an old saw, to which President Packer alluded in his talk:
Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, He is our Father.
There's no question that many gays and lesbians are capable of falsely assuming heterosexual lifestyles -- they've done it for centuries out of fear of persecution, imprisonment, violence and execution. Of course any of us could pretend to "overcome" our natural sexual orientation if our lives were at stake.
But the argument that you could go straight if you really wanted to is dangerous -- not only because it unfairly stigmatizes us as mentally ill, but because it is designed to justify universal application of so-called reparative therapies, which have been determined ineffective at best and damaging at worst by all medical and mental-health professional organizations (except the one formed by practitioners in the reparative-therapy industry).
Certainly, there are some gays and lesbians who believe they might be happier living a heterosexual lifestyle. Pretending to be straight is a time-honored and convenient way to live up to societal, church and familial expectations. People should be free to undergo this distasteful form of therapy if they wish. But such people are the exception rather than the rule -- the vast majority of us are happier and healthier living openly and with integrity.
Naturally, many folks who feel unfairly targeted by President Packer's statements will respond with ridicule and derision. Yet, even though the issue of homosexuality is emotionally charged and generates strong feelings on both sides, lashing out in anger against a simple statement of belief accomplishes little. It serves only to foment contention and resentment, reinforcing the harmful and false belief that LGBT equality represents some kind of threat to all Mormondom.
I'm not saying that protests and outpourings of emotion are never justified. Now, more than ever, it is necessary for the LGBT community to organize against the powerful political forces that seek legal means to marginalize us, as when California's Proposition 8 attempted to revoke recognition of gay and lesbian families in the Golden State.
However, we should be clear what we're protesting -- and it's certainly not the right of a religious leader to speak his mind. The same Bill of Rights that guarantees our right to free speech also guarantees our religious freedom. That means churches are free to recognize same-sex marriages, or to forbid them, as they choose. They are free to believe and preach that gays are addicted, or immoral, or even (as some sects propound) possessed by demons.
By the same token, religious freedom also means no particular church is entitled to use the force of law to impose its beliefs upon all others, no matter how fervently or unanimously such beliefs are held among its members.
Just as we fear laws that discriminate against gays and lesbians, the LDS Church fears laws that discriminate against Mormons. Considering the historical record, such fears are justifiable on both sides.
There is a widespread misperception among religious conservatives that civil recognition of our marriages will give government the authority to step in and regulate their deeply held beliefs. A nightmare scenario would emerge in which preachers could be jailed for sermonizing against homosexuality, and the Fed would somehow force all churches to perform gay and lesbian weddings.
This, of course, is not only preposterous -- it's a deliberate distortion of the goals of the marriage-equality movement.
Quite the opposite is true: In most states (including Utah), churches that recognize gay and lesbian families are forbidden by law to do so. Marriage equality seeks to remedy this very real government intrusion into religious freedom -- not implement a set of phantasmagoric religious restrictions.
I wrote a while back that a plurality of cultural Mormons, out of their natural sense of compassion and fairness, actually do support marriage equality. Unfortunately, we don't hear much from them, since the public announcement of such a belief would draw a sound Iron-Rod drubbing. I fear President Packer's talk is a perfect example of this kind of spiritual pressure brought to bear against members who, in good conscience, can no longer sustain their anti-gay fervor.
"Repentance is like unto a detergent," said President Packer. "Even ground in stains of sin will come out."
Maybe this is a subject upon which President Packer and I can agree: Laundry metaphors are always good.
Brandon's Big Gay Blog