“When a Loved One Struggles with Same-Sex Attraction,” Ensign, Sept. 1999, 51
Family members and friends often experience shock and confusion when they learn that a loved one struggles with homosexual attraction. How do they manage their conflicting feelings and balance love and compassion with the Lord’s declaration that homosexual relations are sinful? Much of society has strayed from gospel truths on this issue. Many claim that homosexuality is biologically determined and that individuals are “born that way.” What should family and friends know about homosexuality? How should they respond to those who struggle with same-sex attraction?
Much confusion can be avoided if we heed the words of the Lord’s prophet. President Gordon B. Hinckley has provided a solid foundation in addressing this difficult issue. He has stated:
“Prophets of God have repeatedly taught through the ages that practices of homosexual relations, fornication, and adultery are grievous sins. Sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage are forbidden by the Lord. We affirm those teachings.”1
In a conference address, President Hinckley provided further counsel on what our attitude should be toward those who experience homosexual attraction:
“We love them as sons and daughters of God. …
“We want to help these people, to strengthen them, to assist them with their problems and to help them with their difficulties. But we cannot stand idle if they indulge in immoral activity, if they try to uphold and defend and live in a so-called same-sex marriage situation. To permit such would be to make light of the very serious and sacred foundation of God-sanctioned marriage and its very purpose, the rearing of families.”2
In addition to having counsel from the Lord’s prophet to provide guidance, it is helpful to have accurate information about homosexuality and its development. First, it is important to understand that homosexuality is not innate and unchangeable. Research has not proved that homosexuality is genetic. Even more important, many researchers whose studies have been used to support a biological model for homosexuality have determined that their work has been misinterpreted. What is clear is that homosexuality results from an interaction of social, biological, and psychological factors. These factors may include temperament, personality traits, sexual abuse, familial factors, and treatment by one’s peers.3
Developmental factors aside, can individuals diminish homosexual attraction and make changes in their lives? Yes. There is substantial evidence, both historical and current, to indicate this is the case. Jeffrey Satinover, M.D., a former Fellow at Yale University and a graduate of MIT and Harvard, concludes:
“The fact that not all methods of treating those who struggle with homosexual attraction are successful, and that no method is successful for everyone, has been distorted by activists into the claim that no method is helpful for anyone. … The simple truth is that, like most methods in psychiatry and psychotherapy, the treatment of homosexuality has evolved out of eighty years of clinical experience, demonstrating approximately the same degree of success as, for example, the psychotherapy of depression.”4
Other researchers note treatment success rates that exceed 50 percent, which is similar to the success rates for treating other difficulties.5
With accurate information coupled with the Lord’s perspective, family and friends can reach out to those with homosexual difficulties and provide a source of hope and direction. Though homosexual attraction may not result from conscious choices, the divine gift of agency does provide us with choices in responding to such attraction. Helping a loved one understand and exercise agency can be valuable and empowering.
Perhaps the most important message you can convey is that there is no struggle for which the Atonement of Jesus Christ is not sufficient. Many individuals who have experienced homosexual difficulties have felt the blessings of the Atonement in their lives, and their burdens have been lifted through the Lord’s grace. In Matthew 11:28–30 [Matt. 11:28–30] the Savior extends the invitation:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Understanding and applying the Lord’s grace to our troubled lives can open the door to peace and joy. One man found it easier to understand grace as “perfect empathy”—that is, the knowledge that the Savior understands our struggles perfectly, diminishes our loneliness, and engenders hope.
Other helpful guidelines for responding to those experiencing homosexual attraction include:
1. Moderate your response to the news of your loved one’s homosexual struggles. Keep in mind that this is the same person you have always known: a child of God. Be grateful that this individual is willing to share his or her burden with you. Trials often provide opportunities for growth both for the individual and for you. Let it be understood that you value him or her and that this difficult journey will not have to be traveled alone.
Brother Brown (all names in examples have been changed) could hardly contain his feelings of devastation when Brian, his youngest son, revealed that he struggled with same-sex attraction. Not knowing how to respond, Brother Brown heeded the still, small voice that directed him to embrace his son. As he did so, Brian uttered, “Dad, I always wanted you to hug me.”
One’s perception of Heavenly Father is often influenced by one’s earthly father. As Brother Brown hugged his son, Brian felt the love of both his earthly father and his Heavenly Father. Such contact provided tremendous support for him at a crucial moment.
2. Express your own feelings and testimony of change. Realize that your loved one may experience extreme pain because of the extensive changes that are required. These include changing one’s thoughts and often one’s friendships, leisure settings, work situation, or even clothing styles. President Ezra Taft Benson expressed his testimony of the Lord’s method of change:
“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature. …
“Yes, Christ changes men, and changed men can change the world. Men changed for Christ will be captained by Christ. …
“… Men captained by Christ will be consumed in Christ.”6
3. While maintaining a loving concern for the person, reiterate the Lord’s position that homosexual relations are sinful, and don’t lose sight of this gospel truth. The story of one young man highlights this point. At 27 years of age, Kent had never acted on his homosexual urgings, which had been present for several years. He decided to inform his parents about his feelings. They were visibly upset but voiced their support for him. Unfortunately, he viewed their support as approval to pursue homosexual relations. He contracted the AIDS virus. In retrospect, he wondered if it would have made a difference if his parents had taken a stronger stand. He stated, “I interpreted their love for me as their approval of homosexual relations.”
4. Kindly encourage the individual to seek counsel from the bishop. Real healing comes from repentance and forgiveness; it comes from the Lord. A loving bishop can provide a needed bridge between the individual and the Lord.
Roger was a 40-year-old who had struggled with homosexual desires most of his life. A therapist at LDS Family Services had helped him sort out his feelings, many of which resulted from a childhood of horrific abuse. Roger achieved a sense of peace that he had never thought possible, but he still wondered if his Father in Heaven had really forgiven him. The bishop met with Roger regularly and gave him comforting blessings. Subsequent to one of the meetings with the bishop, Roger left the room, only to be recalled by the bishop. The bishop put his arm around Roger and said, “The Lord has told me to put my arm around you and to tell you that He loves you.” Roger remembered feeling the Savior’s love in a profound way. Later, Roger said, “I guess I knew that the Lord loved me, but today I felt His love.” Roger’s sense of peace was complete. Indeed, the bishop had helped bridge the gap between Roger and the Lord.
5. Avoid the temptation to try to take control of or fix the situation. Encourage. Be patient. Suffer long. Demonstrate love unfeigned. These actions and attitudes are profoundly more helpful than force. And besides, they represent the Lord’s way.
6. Use professional resources. Not all individuals who have homosexual attraction need professional help. Those who do are best served when professional assistance is combined with a bishop’s counseling. Such joint efforts often can provide immense support in the journey out of homosexuality. This is exemplified by a man who cited the following factors as important in his own healing process:
“The faith and prayers of those who love me.”
“My obedience to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“A therapist whose insight, persistence, and genuine care allowed me to begin to believe again.”
“The mercy and blessings of God, who loves me, and who saw fit to reach down and help me back up.”
Be choosy about the professionals you enlist. Many are proponents of the “you were born that way” philosophy. Ensure that the counseling is consistent with gospel principles and that the professional has expertise in helping those with same-sex attraction.
7. Keep the communication lines open. Telephone calls, letters, and personal contacts remind the individual of your love.
Jon had left his family because they would not accept his lifestyle. Nevertheless, family members, particularly his parents, made phone calls and wrote letters, which Jon kept but never read.
He reached a critical point one evening when he was feeling particularly homesick. As he pondered his trial, almost unknowingly he began opening the letters. He reported experiencing such an outpouring of love that he called his parents and asked if he could come home. His parents were overjoyed to hear from him again. This was the beginning of Jon’s journey out of homosexuality and his return home.
8. Pray trustingly. One mother told of her nightly conversations with Heavenly Father when she learned of her daughter’s struggle with lesbianism. She prayed fervently that her daughter would be protected. Sometime later, the daughter told of the many times she had felt a sense of protection and direction because of her mother’s prayers. A mother’s love and prayers made a tremendous difference.
9. If your loved one is not already married, do not encourage him or her to marry as a “cure” for homosexuality. President Hinckley wisely counseled, “Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices, which first should clearly be overcome with a firm and fixed determination never to slip to such practices again.”7 When homosexual difficulties have been fully resolved, heterosexual feelings can emerge, which may lead to happy, eternal marriage relationships.8
10. Never give up on a loved one—never! A precious promise noted by Elder Orson F. Whitney (1855–1931) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the April 1929 general conference has provided comfort for many parents whose children contend with homosexuality and other difficulties:
“The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.
“Who are these straying sheep—these wayward sons and daughters? They are children of the Covenant, heirs to the promises, and have received, if baptized, the gift of the Holy Ghost, which makes manifest the things of God. Could all that go for naught?”9
The Apostle Paul offers clear doctrine on the matter of homosexuality and provides hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ:
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind … shall inherit the kingdom of God.
“And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9–11; emphasis added).
It is through the Lord’s grace that true healing comes. The final verse of the beautiful hymn “Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice” offers counsel:
Then heed the words of truth and light
That flow from fountains pure.
Yea, keep His law with all thy might
Till thine election’s sure,
Till thou shalt hear the holy voice
Assure eternal reign,
While joy and cheer attend thy choice,
As one who shall obtain.10
For those who heed His words, the Lord makes a wonderful promise:
“And I will … ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions” (Mosiah 24:14).
Those who face such tremendous adversity can find much hope and comfort from the Psalmist, who declared, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Ps. 30:5). Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offers an inspired view of the Lord’s love and mercy:
“I cannot comprehend his power, his majesty, his perfections. But I do understand something of his love, his compassion, his mercy.
“There is no burden he cannot lift.
“There is no heart he cannot purify and fill with joy.
“There is no life he cannot cleanse and restore when one is obedient to his teachings.”11
Help your loved one seek the Lord’s help in this most difficult struggle. When people not only know of the Lord’s love but feel it, their lives can be changed in lasting and powerful ways. The scriptures testify to us of the Lord. We need to open our hearts and let Him in. Our weaknesses and inadequacies need not stand in the way. There is no struggle for which the Atonement is not sufficient.