Most wards in the Church have members who experience same-sex attraction. These members are often struggling with great burdens in addition to their homosexuality. Other members might also have questions or concerns related to this topic. Knowledge prepares leaders to effectively respond to those in need. [ MORE ]
The concepts in this section are provided as suggestions to help you prepare for training your ward or stake leadership. [ MORE ]
Why Train Ward and Stake Leadership?
Most wards in the Church have members who experience same-sex attraction. A recent Gallup poll showed that 3.4 percent of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Among young adults ages 18 to 29 the statistic is 6.4 percent. It is reasonable to assume that the percentage of Church members experiencing same-sex attraction would be similar, since the factors that create homosexuality occur within the Church just as they do outside the Church.
Awareness of specific issues that may be faced by members with same-sex attraction prepares leaders to effectively minister to members in need. Those with same-sex attraction are often struggling with great burdens. In addition to unwanted sexual attractions, they may be involved in homosexual behavior. Many with same-sex attraction have painful life histories and abuse of various types is common. Emotional and psychological problems often accompany same-sex attraction. And many will find their faith greatly challenged as their same-sex attraction calls into question where they fit in the gospel plan.
Members with same-sex attraction who don’t receive attention to these issues are extremely vulnerable to the buffetings of Satan. They are also vulnerable to increased shame, anxiety, depression, painful inner conflict, and suicide. Many with same-sex attraction who don’t get appropriate help eventually become disillusioned and drop out of activity in the Church. Accurate information and effective help can make a tremendous difference to a struggling member’s long-term wellbeing.
It is vital to get individuals to qualified help quickly. Many people have a limited window of hope in their ability to overcome issues related to same-sex attraction. They may be sustained initially by a leader’s words of encouragement, love, and support. But delays in receiving help that effectively lifts their burdens leads to disappointment and disillusionment. When ineffective methods are tried, members may eventually determine that, since they tried to change but failed, they must really be “gay.” Once hope is gone, it is rarely rekindled.
Concepts to Consider
An official policy statement on homosexuality can be found in Handbook 2: Administering the Church, 21.4.6 Homosexual Behavior and Same-Gender Attraction.”
“Homosexual behavior violates the commandments of God, is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality, 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 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.
While opposing homosexual behavior, the Church reaches out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender.
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.”
The role of leaders regarding same-sex attraction
To help you determine the role you—as the presiding authority—want leaders under your stewardship to take, we offer the following thoughts.
- Members need clear spiritual and doctrinal guidance. Today’s culture loudly advocates the normalization and celebration of homosexuality. Members need clarity about these issues from an eternal perspective. This is true for those who personally experience same-sex attraction, those with loved ones experiencing same-sex attraction, and those who are being influenced by the prevailing culture.
- Few things undermine a gospel-centered life more than gay advocacy. It encourages sexuality outside the bonds of marriage, compromises spiritual identity, creates a foreshortened perspective of eternal potential, confuses the meaning and purpose of marriage, and questions the wisdom of the prophets.
- We are under obligation to reach out to all people with love and tolerance. To persecute or speak badly of those who are gay or experience unwanted same-sex attraction is contrary to the teachings of Christ, whether they are among our membership or outside the Church.
- Members often struggle with these issues in silence. Whether they are struggling due to personal involvement, a loved one’s involvement, or confusion over Church doctrine about homosexuality, many of those affected will not seek help from their leaders unless openly invited to do so.
- Most will attempt to combat these issues through personal righteousness, which typically does not help them understand, cope with, or diminish their unwanted sexual desires. This can lead to a sense of unworthiness and failure, which just intensifies their distress.
- The Lord taught his disciples to seek those who are lost. In Matthew 18: 12-14 the Lord speaks of going “into the mountains” and seeking “that which is gone astray.” This teaching suggests actively searching, rather than to passively waiting for the “lost sheep” to ask for help.
- Members with same-sex attraction often need accountability for their thoughts and behavior. Priesthood leaders who establish trust and convey unconditional love can provide that accountability.
- The issues involved with same-sex attraction are extremely complex. Attempting to provide counseling for these issues without professional training puts leaders at risk of giving incorrect advice, stirring up issues they can’t properly handle, and delaying members’ access to appropriate therapy. Leaders can better assist members in need by referring them to mental health professionals with specialized training in responding to same-sex attraction.
The challenges of those with same-sex attraction
The information below may help leaders compassionately understand the burdens borne by those with same-sex attraction. It also provides important background information for ministering to those so affected.
- Childhood issues and resulting symptoms. Same-sex attraction seems to be caused mostly by childhood experiences. These experiences can happen even in good homes with loving parents. For boys who develop same-sex attraction there is usually a particular dynamic that results in feelings of incongruity with their own gender, disaffiliation from other males, lack of a clear sense of gender distinctions, and disinterest in intimacy with the opposite sex. For more information, see What Causes Male Homosexuality? on this site.
- Sexual arousal oriented toward others of the same sex. All people with same-sex attraction experience spontaneous sexual attractions toward others of the same-sex. The nature of these feelings and desires can vary greatly from one person to the next.
- Homosexual behaviors. There are diverse ways in which an individual might behave sexually. The levels of involvement, and subsequent guilt or shame, also vary widely from person to person. Some members have been heavily involved while others have had no involvement.
- Life histories that may include trauma. Many with same-sex attraction have painful life histories. Abuse of various types is common. However, some with same-sex attraction have not experienced circumstances or events that they consider traumatic. same-sex attraction can develop in the absence of trauma, but trauma is far more common than not.
- Emotional and psychological problems. Emotional and psychological problems often accompany same-sex attraction. Some of these problems may be the result of homosexuality. Others may be intrinsic to the person or may result from the same life circumstances that caused the homosexuality.
- Identity issues. Those with same-sex attraction identify with their homosexuality in a variety of ways. Some see it as an unwanted personal trial while others consider it a fundamental part of who they are.
- Spiritual challenges. There is no evidence to indicate that homosexuality is caused by spiritual problems. Nor does having same-sex attraction necessarily mean that an individual will have spiritual problems. In fact, for some members, challenges with same-sex attraction increase their sense of connection with God and their commitment to live His commandments. They rely on God for help and seek the power of the Atonement in their lives.
However, others will find their testimony greatly challenged by their same-sex attraction. The intensity of their needs and desires can overwhelm the desire to live within the gospel plan. Satan can easily use those overwhelming feelings to tempt individuals to experiment and satisfy their intense urges. Some of these people may feel abandoned or betrayed by God, Church leadership, their families, or by other Church members.
In addition, many men and women with same-sex attraction become predisposed to resent and mistrust males and those in authority. These issues tend to be deep-seated and result from problems in past relationships. We have found that showing profound love and acceptance toward these individuals can do much to lessen the intensity of these feelings. Nevertheless, therapy may be required to help the individual fully grow beyond these issues.
Assisting members with same-sex attraction
This section provides suggestions to help you understand and minister to the specific needs of a member with same-sex attraction.
- Learn about their background. The backgrounds of those with same-sex attraction often include painful experiences that they need help to heal. Understanding their background empowers you to minister to their underlying needs.
- Assess their situation. Individuals with same-sex attraction often experience difficulties in their relationships, finances, career, mental health, or living situation. Certain behaviors can also lead to legal problems. In addition, same-sex attraction can create intense difficulties for family members.
- Learn about their attractions, behaviors, and thoughts. A basic understanding of a person’s sexual desires, behaviors, and thoughts can increase understanding, produce valuable insights on how you might help them, and provide relief to the individual.
- Understand their perspective on same-sex attraction. Understanding the person’s beliefs and attitude about homosexuality can help you know how to guide them. It may also provide helpful information on how they feel about themselves and on the sources that influence them—whether in harmony with the gospel or otherwise.
- Learn about their relationship with God. Understanding the status of the person’s faith and connection with God is important in helping them progress.
- Assess their hope and expectations for the future. People need hope for the future. Some people with same-sex attraction may have strong hope in their ability to move past blocks in their lives and experience all the blessings of the gospel, including a joyful marriage and family life. Others may see only a very dim and bleak future.
- If Church discipline is needed. Church disciplinary action can pose significant spiritual, emotional, and relational challenges for members with same-sex attraction (same-sex attraction). They will do better if they feel supported and prepared for this action. It is often extremely beneficial if the individual is involved in professional counseling with someone who understands this process before it takes place.
- If the person is married. Marriage can be complicated by a partner’s same-sex attraction (same-sex attraction). Therapy is often beneficial, and even crucial, to the success of the marriage and the emotional and psychological health of both partners.
- Involve them in the ward. It is essential that members with same-sex attraction feel they have a place within the ward. Perhaps more than other members, they need to feel needed. Often they were ostracized and isolated during their childhoods and may remain prone to feeling on the outside. It is of special significance that they be involved with others of their own sex through quorum, young women’s, or relief society programs.
Knowing when therapy is necessary
Therapy with someone trained to work with unwanted same-sex attraction can be beneficial for anyone with same-sex attraction. Therapy is probably necessary under the following conditions:
- If the individual reports unsuccessful attempts to diminish their same-sex attractions. Therapy will likely be necessary in order for them to make the changes they want.
- If the individual reports:
- Suicidal thoughts or a history of suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Feelings of shame, depression, and anxiety
- Patterns of ruminative or obsessive thinking
- If the individual reports an inability to stop engaging in unwanted sexual behavior. This may be an indication of a sexual addiction. The person might need special help from someone with sexual addiction training, but they may also need the help of someone with specialized training in unwanted same-sex attraction.
- If the individual reports abuse or trauma from earlier in life. Without question, these people need the assistance of a well-trained therapist.
When these issues occur in a person with unwanted same-sex attraction, they may be contributing to the same-sex attraction, but they may also be caused by it. These issues probably won’t remit without professional help from someone trained to work with unwanted same-sex attraction.
For more information
You might encourage leaders to visit this website to further prepare themselves for helping those who are affected by same-sex attraction. Click here to print invitations for you to distribute.