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The Church of Latter-Day Saints: Heterosexism, Racism and 'Revelation'

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Homosexual behavior violates the commandments of God, is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality, distorts loving relationships, 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.
"The Handbook of Instructions," Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

These words express God's "revelation" to the leadership of the Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS), and reaffirmed in 1995 when the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles entered the debate on the parameters of marriage by issuing "The Family: A Proclamation to the World." It stated in part, "We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His Children" and claiming that the power to create children "is not an incidental part of the plan of happiness. It is the key -- the very key ... This commandment has never been rescinded."

If the Church's position on same-sex attractions, expression and marriage for same-sex couples were not clear enough, LDS President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, Boyd K. Packer, referred to homosexuality throughout a sharply worded sermon as "wrong," "wicked," "impure," "unnatural," "immoral," "against nature," "evil," and as a threat to civilization. Packer delivered his sermon to the more than 20,000 participants in the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City, and millions more watching on satellite television at the Church's 180th Semiannual General Conference in October 2010.

Under this backdrop and literally across the street and one block from the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, I was invited to present a keynote address to the delegates at the 81st Annual Convention of the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association on April 16, 2011.

I titled my address, "Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price," based on the notion that homophobia -- sometimes referred to as "heterosexism" (prejudice and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender [LGBT] people) is pervasive throughout society and each of us, irrespective of sexual or gender identity and expression, is at risk of its harmful effects on many levels.

Following my keynote address, a number of the convention delegates came to the podium to talk about how much they had gained from my remarks. In particular, I was enormously touched by the words of three delegates who literally moved me to tears.

A woman approached me with moistened eyes and tears running down her cheeks. Unable initially to speak, she hugged me and sobbed on my shoulder. She ultimately expressed how much my words had moved her, and through her sobs, told me the story of how her stepson, a young gay man, had killed himself three years earlier, and how members of her religious community, the LDS congregation of her small rural community, had shunned and scorned her when the young man's sexual identity had become known.

Words failed me as we continued to hold and comfort each other.

Looking on was another woman who joined us. "I have a nine-year-old son, whom I am quite certain is gay," she told us, as tears also streamed from her eyes. "I am forced to make a decision," she said with urgency in her voice. "I must leave my LDS church and save my son from a possibly tragic fate if I remain. My son is the most important thing in my life, and I refuse to lose him to the narrow views of the people around me."

Catching her breath, she asked me if I could suggest resources she could access in her community. I informed her about PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), a national network of groups offering assistance, support, and resources to cut through the myths and the alienation that often surrounds issues of sexuality and gender expression.

While sad, she also now felt somewhat empowered in her decision to separate from what she considered as abuse and misunderstanding from her church community.

As I was on my way out of the large conference hall, I noticed a man, red-eyed, who beckoned me. "I am a professor at Brigham Young University," he explained. "Until your talk, I had never truly understood the hurt the LDS policy has on real people, but you personalized the issue for me." With a tone of deep sincerity in his voice, he said: "I commit to you that I will bring this message to my campus when I go back to work on Monday."

Yes, the LDS "revelation" on sexuality and gender expression has, indeed, hurt and damaged real people. The Church has also hurt people of African descent until 1978 when the leadership had a "revelation" that they could finally attain full membership in the Church, while still to this very day keeping all women in a second class status well under that of men.

Then LDS president, Brigham Young, instituted a policy on February 13, 1849, emanating from "divine revelation" and continuing until as recently as 1978 forbidding ordination of black men of African descent from the ranks of LDS priesthood. In addition, this policy prohibited black men and women of African descent from participating in the temple endowment and sealings, which the Church dictates are essential for the highest degree of salvation. The policy likewise restricted black people from attending or participating in temple marriages.

Young attributed this restriction to the sin of Cain, Adam and Eve's eldest son, who killed his brother Abel: "What chance is there for the redemption of the Negro?," stated Young in 1849 following declaration of his restrictive policy. "The Lord had cursed Cain's seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood."

While making a speech to the Utah Territorial Legislature in 1852, Young further asserted: "Any man having one drop of the seed of [Cain]...in him cannot hold the Priesthood, and if no other Prophet ever spoke it before, I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ I know it is true and others know it."

In another instance, Young continued: "You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind... Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. That was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin... that they should be the 'servant of servants'; and they will be, until that curse is removed..."

Joseph Fielding Smith, 10th Prophet and President of the LDS Church wrote in 1935 that, "Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness, he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures... And in 1963 he asserted: "Such a change [in our policy] can come about only through divine revelation, and no one can predict when a divine revelation will occur."

It seems that the 12th LDS Church president, Spencer W. Kimball, who served from 1973 to his death in 1985, was touched with such a vision and, therefore, reversed the ban, referring to it as "the long-promised day."

We can ask today whether "revelation" or mere pragmatism was the determining factor in permitting black people full membership rights in the Church at a time of ongoing and heightened civil rights activities in the United States and an increase in LDS missionary recruiting efforts throughout the African continent. We can also ask whether "revelation" or mere pragmatism was the motivating consideration for abandoning its promotion of polygamous marriages at a time when the United States Congress demanded this as a condition for the admission of Utah as a state within the United States.

Today, how many more times will LDS members shun people and their families, how many more young people will injure and kill themselves, and how many more families will grieve the loss of loved ones before the LDS Church leadership receives its "divine revelation" to welcome and grant full membership rights, privileges, and responsibilities to people of all sexual identities and gender identities and expression?

Time has long since passed to finally let the healing begin.

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