The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has released new testimonials now featured in a section of its website called Mormon and Gay, starring several of its members who are struggling to reconcile their same-sex attraction with the church’s anti-gay teachings. Spoiler alert: This involves either total celibacy or marrying a person of the opposite sex.
As much as this is intended to show the church’s ability to keep up in a progressive world that is increasingly intolerant of sexuality-based intolerance, it’s more of a spit shining than a reconfiguration of an organization whose members have in past years poured millions of dollars into the fight against same-sex marriage. That much is clear via the words of church elder D. Todd Christofferson in a video on the site: “Homosexual behavior is contrary to those doctrines, always will be, and can never be anything but transgression. It’s something that deprives people of those highest expectations and possibilities that God has for us.”
Christofferson differentiates between homosexual behavior and same-sex attraction, the latter of which he says “in and of itself is not a sin.” What hangs in the balance are human lives attempting to conform to church teachings by refraining entirely from gay sex. Jessyca Fulmer, 24, above, says, “What’s been so great about this experience is that I’ve been able to understand what really makes me happy and that is pleasing God and I received my answer that this is what he wants me to do. And that happiness surpasses any happiness that I could get from anything temporally. And I want to fill my life with things that he wants me to fill it with and with other things that make me happy including sports and…pretty much sports.”
Josh says, “I know I’m foregoing certain benefits by choosing not to enter into a gay relationship. However, there are aspects of joy and peace that come because I am trying to live God’s will that I didn’t feel while in those gay relationships.”
Laurie says, “Being in love with a woman had a very strong sense of ‘this is right,’ and there was so much good in that relationship. So the impression “this is wrong” was difficult to believe, much less act upon. Really, what felt right was wrong, and what felt wrong was right. At times the conflict would rage, and I’d consider suicide. I feel blessed to still be alive.”
I say this is depressing. Granted, these lifestyle choices are, of course, personal, and it’s not for others to say what is going to make someone truly happy. Moreover, narratives like this are somewhat fascinating from the outside—I was riveted by TLC’s one-off special My Husband’s Not Gay that ran in 2015 and profiled a number of male Mormons with what they called “SSA” (same-sex attraction) that were married to women. That show didn’t beat those guys up to the extent that some viewers wished it had, but it did repeatedly highlight the difficulty of their situations to the point of making these endeavors seem like follies. The testimonials on the LDS site, on the other hand, speak more to principle while the practical endeavor of repressing one’s sexuality is conveyed only in the vaguest of terms. It’s one thing to resolve to formally repress yourself; it’s another thing to live that resolution.
On top of that, the site is filled with sanctimonious chiming in from the subjects’ loved ones. Jessyca’s father Brian says, “This has been difficult, but she will fight through this, and she will be stronger for it. She attacks all of her problems by diving in, studying them, and finding people who can support and befriend her.” Josh’s sister-in-law Brekke says, “Many girls are still interested in Josh. There have been a few that knew Josh’s whole story and still loved him and would have married him. That, to me, was confusing. I’d have these long talks with Josh about why he couldn’t put his feelings aside and work with these amazing girls who were willing to try. I suppose that was me trying to understand what it’s like to be him. I realize I’ll never totally understand. Maybe Josh won’t either.” Throughout the site, sexuality is cast as something that is a burden, causes pain, necessitates struggle, while the church’s conditional tolerance is merely a fact of life. You don’t need a mirror to see that the LDS has things backwards.