The following is an open letter to anyone considering reading the recently published book, “Voices of Hope: Latter-day Saint Perspectives on Same-Gender Attraction – An Anthology of Gospel Teachings and Personal Essays” edited by the gay Mormon and mixed-orientation married Ty Mansfield, who is a practicing family therapist and doctoral student in Marriage and Family Therapy at Texas Tech University.
Hope is an interesting word. For most devout Mormons, “hope” in a discussion of the place of gay people in society is couched in terms of “overcoming the struggle of same-sex attraction,” being “valiant in following the prophets,” and “living according to the values in the ‘Family Proclamation.’” This is especially true for Mormons who identify as straight. For most people, “hope” as a gay is more about living a life filled with meaning, personal authenticity and love.
My challenge to anyone reading this “Voices of Hope” book (and any of the comments on Amazon, the church-owned Deseret Book website or elsewhere) is to read between the lines. Historically (especially within Mormonism and other social compliance-driven religious traditions), gay people have been vilified simply for being gay, accused of advancing an insidious agenda, and for being intolerant of other people’s deeply-held religious views. Now, we have this new book, with its delightfully unwieldy title, as another in a long-line of sugar-coated tomes of “hope” to encourage gay people from a Mormon background to consign themselves to being silenced in lives of despair. How sad that these myths continue to be perpetuated by leaders and members with an agenda of their own, as well as what I have come to call the Gay Mormon Heroes who claim to have found happiness in a post-gay life.
Of course, sexuality is fluid. Each person travels their own path. Who are any of us to say that a person can’t choose to be straight? Many of us who are gay tried that for a long, long time. Straight people make the choice to be straight every day. Mormons make the choice every day to be Mormon. Gay people make the choice every day to face a world that may be slowly changing but it still deeply suspicious and fearful of them. Despite that, gay people find true hope in living a life according to the dictates of their own conscience, to borrow the term from Joseph Smith himself. Mormons would do well to remember their founder’s injunction to allow all the same privilege of living lives of conscience rather than delivering a nearly endless stream of pseudo-science. The entire world would do well to stop obsessing over the pointless question of whether being gay is a choice. It’s a red herring used to distract people away from the universal value of treating other people with respect and dignity. Gay people exist. How anyone “became” gay is irrelevant.
If you want to struggle and be stuck in that mode, or you want to have your pre-conceived notions of how other people should live without seeking to understand the full range of what it is like to be gay, then this is your book. You will find many glowing examples in the writing of heroes who struggle with managing their same-sex attraction, leaders and family members who preach without truly listening, quasi-theologians who expound on the law of chastity and the “traditional” family, and professionals whose unproven approach is far outside the generally accepted standards of the scientific community.
If you care for your loved one who is gay, bisexual, questioning or simply trying to sort through the range of feelings regarding sexuality, encourage them to seek out multiple perspectives. You and they may even want to read this book. But don’t stop with this book. Please.
During a quiet moment of personal reflection, think about the fact that the church still publishes and its leaders still recommend Spencer Kimball's book, “The Miracle of Forgiveness” that labels gay people as threats to civilization and contains quotes such as: “All such deviations from normal, proper heterosexual relationships are not merely unnatural but wrong in the sight of God. Like adultery, incest, and bestiality they carried the death penalty under the Mosaic law. (Lev. 20:13, 15-16.) The law is less severe now, and so regrettably is the community's attitude to these grave sins--another evidence of the deterioration of society.” If the church has indeed changed, why is this still published and recommended?
After you reflect on this, read a wide array of books. Find other resources. Do some research beyond lds.org and church-approved material. Focus on the love you have for your family member or friend, and how much you value a genuine relationship with them. Talk to gay people you know. If you don’t know any gay people, expand your circle. Go to a GLBT community center and ask for a reading list. Sit and talk with the staff. You’ll probably find that they are just as nice as any Mormon you may have met. You might even find out that they come from a Mormon background. At all costs, avoid making this book the centerpiece of your knowledge about what it means for your fellow human beings to be gay.