LDS parents of gay children: navigating doctrine and revelation

Friday , August 15, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Standard-Examiner staff

OGDEN — When Jan Nichols’ son, Casey, came out as gay 10 years ago, she remembers making a choice; she knew this could either devastate her world, or she could grow. She chose to grow. 

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Nichols and her family have had to learn how to navigate their life-long faith while completely accepting Casey’s sexual orientation. 

“I thought, ‘This could either kill me or I could learn everything I could about it,’” said the North Ogden resident.

The church outlines its stance on same-sex attraction on an official website, “The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

Navigating the teachings of the church while accepting their child’s sexuality is a reality for many LDS parents of children who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). With the recent and past political climate surrounding same-sex marriage, the voyage is difficult, some families say. 

When Nichols’ son came out, she remembers the timing of being in the midst of the political battle of Proposition 8, which would ban gay marriage in California. It hurt Nichols to know that the leaders of her faith were so adamantly against gay marriage.

“In our family, we believe that people should be able to marry who they love, regardless of their sex,” Nichols said. “Prop. 8 brought awareness to this issue and the church has realized that it needs to be a little more sensitive when dealing with this.”

Nichols said she and her husband support their son, while remaining active members of their faith, despite the church’s stance.

Kathryn Hueth of Ogden, whose son came out as gay when he was a senior in high school, shares a similar story. She said in the infancy of her journey navigating this issue, she came across literature in the church suggesting that her son’s sexual orientation was a sin and an abomination in God’s sight. For some time, Hueth considered leaving the church, but ultimately decided to remain a member.

“The biggest tool that has enabled me to navigate this successfully is personal revelation,” she said. “We have to remember that yes, we believe that church leadership is the body that receives revelation for the church, but we have to understand that one of the most dearly treasured gifts we received by being members is receiving personal revelation. Understand that you have every right to have revealed to you how to navigate this ... for yourself and for your family.”

Some parents have made the choice to become inactive, opting not to live with the growing tension in their communities.

Steven Cohen, whose 29-year-old son is gay, became inactive after his other children decided not to be affiliated with a church that did not accept their brother.

“The church is about families and where our kids weren't going to church, we finally decided that we’d rather spend Sundays with our kids,” Cohen said.

As the program coordinator for LDS Family Fellowship, an organization that works to strengthen relationships between LGBT Mormons and their families, Cohen said more members of the church have become accepting of the LGBT population as they have personal experiences with them.

“There is, on that individual level, more people who are becoming more and more exposed through people they know who are gay,” he said. “That myth, that they’re an abomination, dies because of personal experience.”

Hueth said she’s found that some members soften once they are separated from the voice of the general populous.

“They’re just afraid to vocalize it,” she said. “They don’t want to be the one raising their hand in church and saying, ‘I don’t agree with that.’ And I wasn't; I didn't want to be the reason for any contention in church. ... I want to do it with love and acceptance and education and not with anger and contention.”

The church makes clear on its website that all members should love and accept those who identify as LGBT. 

“As people with hopes, fears and aspirations like everyone else, these neighbors deserve our love,” the website says. “But we can’t truly love the neighbors next door if we don’t love the neighbors under our own roof. Family members with same-sex attraction need our love and understanding. God loves all his children alike, much more than any of us can comprehend, and expects us to follow.”

But will the church ever change it’s position on same-sex relationships? According to another statement made on the website, the stance is concrete.

“From a public relations perspective it would be easier for the church to simply accept homosexual behavior,” the website says. “That we cannot do, for God’s law is not ours to change. There is no change in the church’s position of what is morally right. But what is changing — and what needs to change — is to help Church members respond sensitively and thoughtfully when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other church members, or elsewhere.”

However, some parents, like Cohen, believe there is a chance, finding evidence through other historic changes such as blacks being ordained with the priesthood.

“You've got to come to a level of understanding with what I call the true nature of the church, (which) is one of the things that’s always been attractive with Mormonism, is that it’s open to new possibilities,” he said. “Things do change. Our understandings improve.”

John Dehlin, a graduate student in the psychology department at Utah State University, has been studying the connection between sexuality and religion. He cited many changes that the church has made to become more inclusive; he predicts that as soon as same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, the church will become fully supporting of its LGBT members.

“One hundred and twenty years ago, it was unimaginable to think that the church would give up polygamy, except that it did,” Dehlin said. “Polygamy defined us for at least 50 years as a church, then all of a sudden we abandoned it. Up until 1978, the church was defined by many as an organization that dis-remitted black people, and low and behold that changed. The Church actually, in my experience, is really good at changing. It just sometimes changes a little bit later than broader society on some issues.”

That gives parents, like Hueth, hope. 

“It may not happen in my lifetime or my son’s lifetime where (the church) comes around to supporting same-sex marriage, through continuing revelation,” she said. “But in my heart and mind, I feel total peace in the knowledge that my son is absolutely loved and adored by the Lord, the same as anyone else. He created him. He knows his heart. Why would He not want him to have a full and complete life?”

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