Having been out of Utah for 14 years now, and away from BYU for the same amount of time, it shouldn’t surprise me that from time to time I’m slow to hear about news from campus. This morning when I got on social media, I was greeted with a few posts about a talk Elder Holland gave at BYU four days ago. He’s usually one of my favorite speakers, so I was surprised to see these posts not generally being about how great the talk was, but rather how upsetting. Naturally, I had to go read it for myself.
In it, he challenges the faculty of BYU to defend the faith more than it has to date. Specifically, he cites the current tendency of some on campus to seemingly defend or condone gay marriage. Though he does go on to state he’s only using that as one example of the types of things he’d like to see the faculty change, he dwells on it for quite a while.
I don’t have it in me right now to write another piece on the church and its polices on homosexuality and gay marriage. I’m in no way a spokesman for the church, and my opinions are only opinions. However, I did want to talk a little bit about why, perhaps, so many of the youth in the church are in favor of supporting gay marriage and LGBTQ+ rights.
We are taught time and time again that we are to love one another. That the second greatest commandment is “thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.” Up until the last few decades (give or take), it was assumed homosexuality was a choice. As such, it was easy to pass it off as sinful behavior. But as we’ve been able to understand the topic more fully, it becomes increasingly apparent that (at least for a portion of society, and I’m not going to debate how big a portion) it’s not a choice, but rather an inherent part of their person. They’re born that way.
And they’re born into a society that has largely been set against them since forever. LGBTQ+ youth attempt suicide at an an alarming rate. Within the church, they’re told they’re loved (by many church leaders), but the actual way many members treat the LGBTQ+ community leaves much (much!) to be desired. And even the church leaders like Elder Holland who say how much they love them end up telling them they can never live their life in the way they feel they were inherently born to live it. “Hate the sin, not the sinner” is a fine saying for lying or stealing or any number of actions out there, but as soon as the sin stops being a willful choice but rather a state of being, it becomes much more problematic. You can’t say “I don’t hate gay people, I just hate people who act gay” and actually expect anyone not to call you out on it.
Our religion teaches us from an early age that as members of the church, we are under an obligation to mourn with those who mourn. To be compassionate to the downtrodden. Why in the world wouldn’t many of the youth of the church then want to reach out and comfort those who stand in need of comfort? Data fluctuates, but as of a few years ago, one in four LGBTQ+ high schoolers attempt suicide. One in four! These are children who are being treated by a society in a way that makes them think they’d be better off dead than to go on living. If anyone needs comfort, they do.
I have heard multiple people in the church make fun of the LGBTQ+ community, from the time I was a child right on up to my time living here in Maine. Honestly, I would be disappointed in my children if they didn’t speak up to try to protect and support their LGBTQ+ friends.
We have a tendency to weigh sins. To find some to be more onerous than others. And that makes sense. There are different degrees of stealing or lying or cheating or any number of actions. The church has recently spoken out multiple times about its intolerance of racism. In 2020, President Nelson called on members who are racist in any way to repent. But if you’re racist (which is a choice, but is also arguably something you can be raised to believe, and so can be difficult to break free from), you’re not treated like a leper. Just look at how the DezNat folks are treated. You can be a practicing racist and hold church callings, or espouse homophobic ideas and be welcomed at activities. Your Bishop isn’t likely to sit you down for a long talk about the need to repent. (Though I suppose you could argue he would if you were acting on these opinions violently, or regularly teaching about them in church.)
What I mean to say is that it feels to me sometimes that we’re far too accepting and embracing of those people in our religion who are intolerant, unkind, and downright un-Christlike. We are comforting those who don’t need comfort. Mourning with those who are not mourning. And while we do that, we’re ignoring whole masses of mourners outside our doors.
I’m not generally the sort of person who’s looking to grind an axe with anyone. I’ve got plenty of things I need to work on myself, and I’m not calling for any one sin to be called out more than any other. I’d just like us to acknowledge that all of us have issues, and that the church is here for the sick, not the healthy. And we’re all sick. It might make some people feel better to point out the sicknesses of others, but when you’re all in the hospital, it feels like you’re really splitting hairs.
Personally, I would rather be too loving. Too accepting. Too forgiving. It’s coming from a heartfelt belief that I want to do what I can to help those who need help, and support those who need support. I do not know the intricacies of God’s views on homosexuality and why those views are the way they are. And I suppose I’m glad I don’t work at BYU, even though I love the school. Perhaps because the school is church run, its employees are held to a stricter standard in what they can say and do. But I wish that standard were the other way. That BYU faculty and staff were expected to be more loving and kind. And that parents who objected to that kindness were in turn reminded of the need to be more Christlike themselves.
And that’s all I have in me to say today.