“Compassion for Those Who Struggle,” Ensign, Sept. 2004, 58
The inspiring account of Hannah in the Old Testament depicts the travails of one temporarily deprived of normal family relationships by her inability to bear a child. Mocked by her husband’s other wife “because the Lord had shut up her womb,” Hannah “was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore” (1 Sam. 1:6, 10). The footnote to this scripture explains that the phrase “bitterness of soul” means not anger or cynicism but sadness and grief.
There are those in the Church today who also feel a “bitterness of soul” because they do not fully experience the joys of family life. This is not so because of infertility. Neither is it because they have not had a suitable opportunity to marry. They are unable as yet to have families of their own because of sexual orientation.
They are those brothers and sisters in the Church with same-sex attractions who are conscientiously striving to live the commandments. They are those who reject trendy beliefs that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle option. They are those who, recognizing we are not named by what tempts us, eschew the label “gay” to take upon them the name of Christ instead.
I am one of them.
For those of us facing this challenge, the only way to live a life of righteousness is to delay or go without something for which most human hearts hunger: the kind of partnership and completeness that is found in a marriage relationship. In the moments of searing loneliness this reality brings, I find compensating companionship in the enveloping arms of the Savior and His Atonement. During such times, the Savior’s words “My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Cor. 12:9) take on a profound new meaning.
It is a distressing duality to yearn to follow Christ and His teachings about marriage and family while being unable to do so because of inharmonious sexual attractions. When I despair I take comfort from what the Lord promises in Doctrine and Covenants 58:2–3:
“Blessed is he that keepeth my commandments, whether in life or in death; and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven.
“Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation.”
Here I hope to explain through my experience the challenges and needs of many of the Church members enduring same-sex attraction, that perhaps increased understanding and compassion from friends, family, and Church members will be a sustaining bulwark in our defenses against giving in to temptation.
It is not often that Saints with same-sex attraction make their challenge known to others. For me, this struggle is one only the Lord, my bishop, and a few close and understanding friends need to know.
However, at times family and ward or branch members will discern that one harbors these attractions. If others have such perceptions of me, I am grateful that in my Church associations I have never experienced jokes and gossip that make light of a struggle where a soul’s destiny hangs in the balance. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has stated, “Persons … struggling with the burden of same-sex attraction are in special need of the love and encouragement that is a clear responsibility of Church members.”1
Ours is often a hidden conflict for fear of being seen as “deviants” who have chosen these attractions. For most Latter-day Saints who struggle with this challenge, nothing could be further from the truth. As one author has written: “Why would someone who has a strong conviction of the divine origins of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints choose to engage in a wrenching conflict with that testimony … ? Same-sex desires create a very difficult challenge for Church members and are seldom chosen. The trial befalls even the valiant ones.”2 Our choice is in deciding whether to defy or succumb to temptation, not in whether to have the temptation itself.
Conversely, the doctrine of agency contradicts worldly attempts to justify homosexual behavior because of supposed biological or physiological causes. Elder Oaks said: “Once we have reached the age or condition of accountability, the claim ‘I was born that way’ does not excuse actions or thoughts that fail to conform to the commandments of God. We need to learn how to live so that a weakness that is mortal will not prevent us from achieving the goal that is eternal.”3
Surely He who asks rhetorically, “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14) can help us master same-sex attraction.
When I first made the decision to repent of homosexual activity, I greatly feared how the bishop would react. Would he act disgusted or angry? Would I be made to feel worse than I already did over having sinned?
Anxious about disclosing such a personal struggle, I delayed the repentance process for many months. When I did finally meet with my bishop, instead of burdening me with more guilt, he beckoned me back to the fold with words as inviting as Alma’s: “If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26). The bishop’s calm and spiritual reaction to my confession made it easier to go to him later on, knowing I would be loved and helped. His Christlike approach aided in my repentance.
Equal to my fears of going to the bishop were my feelings of unworthiness to be at church with people who were living good lives and had not indulged in the sins I had committed. I was sure the first Sunday I returned to church that everyone would see right into my soul and know what I was guilty of and the feelings I was struggling with.
Instead, my anxieties were put to rest when members of the ward welcomed me back with loving fellowship. Repentance would have been much more difficult if I had gone from being a less-active member to a less-included member of the ward.
Supportive and loving Latter-day Saint friends and family are vital in the repentance process. When I first sought such support from a few longtime friends by revealing my struggle, I worried they would reject me. Yet just as the Savior would never reject someone because of his or her temptations, neither have my friends abandoned me because of my weakness. If they ever felt disappointment in learning of my temptations and mistakes, they replaced those feelings with the kind of charity President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) described: “I have in my heart a love for all of God’s children. I have no ill feeling toward any human being. With you, I hate sin, but I love the sinner. We all have need to repent.”4
When I feel overwhelmed by my situation, I am truly blessed to have these friends who will listen and encourage. They strengthen my resolve to endure to the end. The words that comforted and uplifted the Prophet Joseph Smith also comfort and uplift me: “Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands” (D&C 121:9).
Some assume that all those with same-sex tendencies are morally depraved. Yet, as I often have to remind myself, because of my repentance and my earnest efforts to live the commandments I am as worthy as other righteous Latter-day Saints to serve in callings and in the temple, to take the sacrament, to give talks and lessons in church, and to hold the priesthood. As President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has said, “If you do not act on temptations, you need feel no guilt.”5
Contrary to being morally deficient, many of us are developing spiritual muscles through the calisthenics of adversity.6 This is a fight that can forge a profound closeness with Heavenly Father and the Savior because victory hinges on our ability to rely on Them completely. For me, these words of the Savior have personal meaning: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matt. 9:12).
Some may be gripped by other temptations—alcohol, tobacco, pornography, gambling, or other serious sins. If not tempted by major transgression, we all nevertheless are tempted every day. And we do not think people facing large or small temptations are immoral just because they are tempted. Elder Oaks reminds us: “We should always distinguish between sinful acts and inappropriate feelings or potentially dangerous susceptibilities. We should reach out lovingly to those who are struggling to resist temptation.”7
I am blessed to associate with people who view me by my true character, not by superficial stereotypes. In doing so they follow the Savior’s example: “The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
Regardless of the nature of our temptations, everyone must rely upon the Savior’s Atonement to build the bridge that takes us back to our Father in Heaven. No one can do it alone.
One of the most uncomfortable moments I face as I work to overcome same-sex attraction is when a Church or family member queries as to why I am not yet married. Worse, however, is hearing the dreaded words “I have the perfect person for you to date.”
For some, dating members of the opposite sex may be a welcome way to work past inappropriate attractions. For others like me, dating may not be comfortable just now. Pushing dating on me has the unintended consequence of aggravating the pain and frustration I may feel. I hope to one day sufficiently curb my attractions to make the first tenuous steps toward dating. But I have to be allowed to do so without others imposing either timetables or dating partners upon me.
Some may say that same-sex attraction can be “cured” simply through dating and marriage. But President Gordon B. Hinckley has dispelled this notion: “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 into such practices again.”8
The ability of individuals with same-sex desires to date and marry depends on their progress made with the Lord’s help in overcoming these attractions—an effort that is neither easy nor quick. Your patience with this process will greatly magnify our own. Contrary to the impression given by the popular media, many individuals have successfully overcome their same-sex attractions.9 For others, this may be a lifelong test10 to prove their willingness to do as the Savior said—to “deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
Of greater value than matchmaking services of friends and Church members are the time and companionship many so freely offer. Married couples who embrace me within their social circles by including me in family home evenings or other activities help sustain me during periods of temptation and loneliness. They exemplify the Savior’s admonition to cast a wide net of inclusion:
“For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
“And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?” (Matt. 5:46–47).
The most wrongheaded thought I occasionally experience is feeling left out of the Church’s teachings on family and marriage. Time spent interacting with families allows me to feel I have a part in the doctrine on family. In sharing their time, families fulfill the decree of discipleship that we are to be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” (Mosiah 18:8).
Time with righteous friends and their families also helps make the difference in my making correct choices. When I am feeling most alone is when I am most tempted to look for improper companionship. Associating instead with gospel-oriented families helps me choose the better course and gives me a taste of family blessings that someday can be mine through my faithfulness.
Whether you know or only sense that a righteous friend or family member is dealing with same-sex attraction, rest assured by virtue of his or her discipleship that he or she is not content to be facing these temptations. Please do not confuse temptation with transgression.
Our Father in Heaven and our Savior know our needs and can help those of us facing this challenge endure to the end. They accomplish this in part through true disciples who are willing to offer their time, understanding, and compassion. As we are thus strengthened in our righteous resolves and as we are obedient to the Savior’s teachings, our “bitterness of soul” will be replaced by joy and hope like that which Hannah felt when her prayers at last were answered (see 1 Sam. 2:1). We then will be better able to successfully meet the tests of this life and find our way home.