Monday, October 17, 2011

On Hope and the Voices We Choose to Hear

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 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.


  1. Have you read the book?

  2. Welcome back, Anonymous. If you're the same Anonymous that wrongly assumed I hadn't read Deiter Uchtdorf's "Your Happily Ever After" talk that was being re-published as a book (or even if you're not), I invite you to leave a comment with your own thoughts about this new "Voice(s) of Hope" book, rather than trolling my blog asking passive aggressive questions. Thanks.

  3. Thoughtful post. I also get very aggravated by people who try to make choosing to live a life like Mr. Mansfield has chosen a romanticized possibility, or a desired imperative. It's upsetting. I loved your description of the title. I double-checked the title and laughed. 

    Stuff like this makes me want to write an anthology of happily not-mr.-Mansfields there are. I've also thought of a multiple-author blog. 

  4. Pablo,
    I guess I am one of the so called "Gay Mormon heros" who you claim encourages other gay Mormons "to consign themselves to being silenced in lives of despair". In sharing my story, my motivation was not to tow any party line or offer any false hope. It is simply my story, my quest to find peace in my family and God's kingdom. It may provide hope to some who are in my shoes, I hope it does. My journey is not over, I have issues of faith that will likely remain with me. I am still attracted to men, both physically and emotionally. It is not something I feel the need to change. What I needed/need to change is my heart. I needed to be open to the idea that God lives, that I am still acceptable to Him, and that I want to be a follower of Christ. I also needed to acknowledge that my truest joy is found within my family. Expressing how I find joy is not meant as a condemnation or imperative to anyone else. Just as I respect the choices you or Dan or anyone else makes with sincerity, I would hope that you would respect my choice to find peace and comfort within my marriage and within the Church.


  5. Steve,
    First off, thank you for your thoughtful comment. We've never met, but I see you as a deep-thinking, compassionate, good soul. I'm not condemning you or disrespecting your life path. Heaven knows mine is complicated too. The main purpose of this post was to try to express my worry about how most Mormons will use and misuse what you and others wrote in that book. I also see some agendas in parts of the book. As for your contribution, I see it as an earnest, heartfelt description of what has worked for you and may work for some others.

    As we both know, Mormon culture wants to find the "one true way" for just about everything. And since this book is being published by Deseret Book, it will likely be seen as such. Alternative views are dismissed to easily in Mormon culture, practice and doctrine. I wish there was more emphasis in the book on the fact that this book is not the end-all resource for gay Mormons, their families and friends, and church leaders.

    I figured that using the "Gay Mormon Hero" descriptor would ruffle some feathers. But it fits in our current environment---whether the "hero" chooses to make themselves into such or others look to them as a hero without them seeking that status. Either way, it's a problem. (If anything, I see you as the latter, although I never intended to level a personal attack or affix a label on you specifically). Given my suspicion that most Mormons will see this book as THE source of truth on homosexuality (or at least the latest one), I felt compelled to write this post.

    I also realized that I needed a change of heart through the process of grappling with reconciling being gay with being Mormon. My path has been different. My change of heart came when I realized that I could no longer find emotional and spiritual meaning in the LDS church. Most members and leaders have good intentions. But for me, there is only further anguish and dissonance. I experienced too much ecclesiastical malpractice and abuse to trust that the church is a safe place for me. I discovered that I don't need the reconciliation with the church. I only need reconciliation within myself and with my loved ones. In addition to that, I realized that my family doesn't have to be configured exactly the way the church says it does in order for my family to have joy and deep meaning.

    It's about a right path or a wrong path. It's about a path that works for the individual and is emotionally healthy. Your path is working for you, and mine is working for me. I'm glad for both.

    My hope is that one day soon there will be enough space for individual Mormons who are working through what it means to be gay to find the path that really works for them. I want hope to have a more expansive definition than I see in this book. I want there to be space for family, friends and church leaders to avoid the all-too-typical rejection of a gay person when they choose a path that is not precisely in line with what the church currently teaches. I hope that your openness in sharing your own experiences and choices reaches people in the way you intended.

  6. Thanks for the respectful discorse Pablo.


  7. Well, I want to say to Pablo... I know you won't care what I'm going to say, but I going to say it anyways. I don't believe that you are at peace with living a gay lifestyle! But you would never admit it, because then that would make you have to question why? That's all I have to say...