Chapter 10
Home Up

CHAPTER 10
DISCOURAGEMENT, DISAPPOINTMENT, DESPAIR

Jeff M. Durning1

 

INTRODUCTION

JEFFíS LETTER

THE AFTERMATH

Endnotes

Summary: After Elder James E. Faust included some material against homosexuality in an address at BYU in November 1994, Jeff M. Durning, a gay man who was celibate and active in the Church, wrote a respectful and thoughtful letter to him in an attempt to explore further dimensions of the topic. Elder Faust telephoned Jeffís stake president and informed him that one of his stake members was a homosexual who was "content" with his sexual orientation. The stake president promptly scheduled a disciplinary counsel which he said Jeff need not attend. When it was pointed out that Jeff was celibate and, hence, that there were no grounds for action according to the General Handbook of Instructions, the stake president said he would "get back" to Jeff after he had thought about it. Neither he nor his successor (he was released a few months later) has contacted Jeff in the intervening four years.

 

INTRODUCTION

On 15 November 1994, Elder James E. Faust, in an address, "Trying to Serve the Lord Without Offending the Devil," BYU Devotional, Marriott Center, charged that Mormons who tolerate sin and who are not zealous in righteousness are trying to "serve the Lord without offending the devil." He warned students that "the influence of Satan is becoming more acceptable" in four major areas: the toleration of abortion, a concern with overpopulation, toleration of homosexuality, and divorce. He also denounced some "milder forms of trying to serve the Lord without offending the devil": not opposing laws regulating gambling, alcohol, and drugs, not attending the temple frequently enough, and not asserting strongly Mormonismís unique claims of being the only true Church.

He then encouraged his listeners to resist Satan by understanding that "he has no authority over us which we do not give him," personal revelation to the obedient, "fasting and prayer," and "industry and work." He concluded by testifying "that there are forces which will save us from the ever-increasing lying, disorder, violence, chaos, destruction, misery, and deceit that are upon the earth. Those saving forces are the everlasting principles, covenants, and ordinances of the eternal gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ ... coupled with the rights and powers of the priesthood of Almighty God. We of this church are the possessors and custodians of these commanding powers which can and do roll back much of the power of Satan on the earth. We believe that we hold these mighty forces in trust for all who have died, for all who are now living, and for the yet unborn."2

This talk generated considerable press comment, particularly Elder Faustís assertion that "sustainable growth" was a clever "mask" by Satan of "evil designs" under a "socially acceptable phrase."3 In March 1995, after President Howard W. Hunterís death occasioned the reorganization of the First Presidency, Elder Faust was ordained as second counselor to President Gordon B. Hinckley. The entire talk was reproduced, unaltered except for stylistic editing, as the First Presidency Message in the September 1995 Ensign under the title, "Serving the Lord and Resisting the Devil," pp. 2-7.

Jeff M. Durning, a gay man living in Utah, heard about this address through internet postings, then received a copy from friends who were BYU students and had attended the devotional. He had grown up in Utah Valley and his memories of being attracted to men date back to age four. During his twenties, he had had a homosexual relationship with a young man. After the relationship ended, Jeff counseled with his bishop and felt that the matter was resolved. A successful information manager for a high-tech company, Jeff was celibate, devoted to the Church, and actively striving to live gospel principles; consequently, he was particularly troubled by Elder Faustís denunciation of homosexuality and his associated reasons:

The Churchís stand on homosexual relations provides another arena where we offend the devil. I expect that the statement of the First Presidency and the Twelve against homosexual marriages will continue to be assaulted. Satan is only interested in our misery, which he promotes by trying to persuade men and women to act contrary to Godís plan. One way he does this is by encouraging the inappropriate use of sacred creative powers. A bona fide marriage is one between a man and a woman solemnized by the proper legal or ecclesiastical authority. Only sexual relations between husband and wife within the bonds of marriage are acceptable before the Lord.

There is some widely accepted theory extant that homosexuality is inherited. How can this be? No scientific evidence demonstrates absolutely that this is so.4 Besides, if it were so, it would frustrate the whole plan of mortal happiness. Our designation as men or women began before this world was. In contrast to the socially accepted doctrine that homosexuality is inborn, a number of respectable authorities contend that homosexuality is not acquired by birth. The false belief of inborn sexual orientation denies to repentant souls the opportunity to change and will ultimately lead to discouragement, disappointment, and despair.

Any alternatives to the legal and loving marriage between a man and a woman are helping to unravel the fabric of human society. I am sure this is pleasing to the devil. The fabric I refer to is the family. These so-called alternative lifestyles must not be accepted as right, because they frustrate Godís commandment for a life-giving union of male and female within a legal marriage as stated in Genesis. If practiced by all adults, these lifestyles would mean the end of the human family.5

Jeff thought about these statements, read the transcript carefully, and then over the next month, prayerfully composed a letter to Elder Faust. Although he took issue with numerous statements in the talk, he focused only on the issue of homosexuality. "I tried to explain my own situation, my own thoughts, and my own feelings on this subject," he said. "The tone was not meant to be confrontational but educational. It turned out to be an emotional letter, but thatís because my emotions were raw on this topic." He asked friends to read it and respond to both the content and the tone. After careful revisions and many drafts, he wrote the final version of the following seventeen-page document to Elder Faust on 20 February 1995, Presidentís Day, and mailed it the next day.

 

JEFFíS LETTER

 

Dear Elder Faust,

I am perhaps a little late in writing this letter but I wanted to share with you several thoughts regarding a talk you gave awhile ago during a BYU devotional. That talk has been on my mind for quite some time; and over the past several weeks, I have noticed the great influence it has had on the lives of those around me and the effects it has had on my own life as well. For this, I am very grateful. A significant change has occurred in my life as a result of that talk. I feel a great deal of renewed hope within my soul and a stronger dedication to serving others and helping them in their own search for truth. If I may, Iíd like to share my testimony with you. One of the wonderful gifts that came from hearing about your talk was the desire in my heart to share my testimony and talk about my own spiritual growth as well as make a plea for help over a few concerns I have come across.

I realize that my testimony is similar to that of many others and that I may not have anything new to say that hasnít already been expressed by the countless individuals who are experiencing the same situation that I face. I know Iíve heard those stories many times from many people; and rather than being just another witness of the mysterious ways in which God works in our lives, I want to further address a particular issue by asking some questions that perhaps can prepare all of us to better love and serve our precious brothers and sisters who are affected by this situation. The situation I am referring to is homosexuality. Although this was not the central theme of your talk, you touched on several ideas in relation to it that were the inspiration for this letter.

I write this because I am homosexual. And if I may be so bold, I believe I speak for many of my homosexual friends and acquaintances, for their experiences are quite similar to mine. I am a homosexual who has found spiritual peace and resolution over an issue that has plagued my life with years of pain and tremendous confusion. I am a homosexual who has had the faith to let our Heavenly Father work his miraculous power of healing and bring about a change in my life that I never expected nor ever thought possible. You see, I am a homosexual who is grateful for being a homosexual. Without this gift, I doubt that I would ever have truly found my Father in Heaven.

The change of heart I am talking about is best described by an experience related to me through a close friend. My friend struggled with his homosexuality for much of his life. He served a mission and later married with the intent of overcoming his homosexuality. He spoke to me about the long hours of prayer throughout his life in which he pled with God to remove his homosexual feelings. His frustration led him to ask "Why me?" and "Why wonít you take these feelings from me?" He fought his homosexuality, trying everything he could to change. Along with feeling a desperate need to change, my friend felt a great deal of self-hatred, shame, and self-pity. His prayers were always the same; and to his disappointment, the answers to his prayers were, likewise, always the same. He remained depressed. He remained frustrated. And he remained homosexual.

Then one day a change did occur. It was such a healing change that as he spoke about it, I could feel the Spirit that had touched my friend with such a beautiful sense of peace and love. Instead of praying for change, my friend prayed for forgivenessóforgiveness for wanting to remove something from his life that had a significance that only God had understood. My friend prayed in gratitude. He was grateful that he was homosexual. He thanked his Father in Heaven for that gift. He was thankful that he had the opportunity to suffer so that he might learn compassion. He was thankful that he had struggled with such intensity so that he might gain strength and experience growth. He was thankful that he had confronted confusion and shame so that he might find truth and acceptance of the love that he feels. He was grateful that God did not remove his homosexuality so that he might continue to learn the invaluable lessons that God had waiting for him.

And once my friend realized the beautiful gift that he had been given, he was no longer frustrated, no longer depressed, and no longer confused. The self-pity and self-hatred were dissolved, and serenity and comfort filled his soul. He experienced a healing that did not require him to change his homosexuality but rather to change his beliefs about homosexuality. His weaknesses were made into strengths. His courage and faith were magnified. His life, still filled with challenges, is one that can now be faced with hope and happiness. The fruits of this experience are apparent. His testimony continues to bear this out. As does mine. As do the testimonies of countless individuals who have experienced the same shift from self-hatred to self-acceptance. The greatest change that I have noticed in the lives of the homosexuals I have encountered is not in "overcoming" our homosexuality but in accepting our homosexuality and in finding the spiritual meaning associated with it, a meaning that is a source of wealth we never dreamed of, a source of wealth that perhaps only those who deal with this issue can fully understand.

I am grateful to you and other men like you who address the topic of homosexuality because, in a very amazing way, it leads us to a greater understanding and compassion that we often never expect. I truly believe that God works in mysterious ways. Too often we tend to want to "fixí problems and attempt to do so from our very limited understanding, or else we expect our Heavenly Father to "fix" things for us. In essence, we are attempting to do good or cause righteousness to come to pass; but due to our lack of wisdom and charity, we often seek it in the wrong place or in the wrong way instead of quietly listening to the Lord and the Spirit within our hearts where the truth actually resides. In other words, we are often surprised at the outcome of our efforts, whether they be efforts to change or to educate or to express love to another individual. And these surprises are simply another line or precept added to the line or precept that we thought was our destiny when in reality, it was merely another step along the way to greater and greater understanding.

To illustrate this, I want to share an excerpt from a letter that I received from another close friend this past Christmas. I was pleasantly surprised by a change of heart that I experienced upon reading his letter. At first I was upset by a certain paragraph because I did not understand it and I clung to an old way of thinking that was keeping me from progressing. In this letter, my friend is writing to the Lord his wishes for the new year. His request was this:

Do not, please, give me/us world peace; do not remove hunger, homelessness, AIDS, racism, homophobia, and war from my/our midst. Do not, most especially, simply wipe away all that we have done to hurt our fragile, magnificent home: Help me/us, rather, to solve these problems on my/our own. "Salvation"- true "salve-ation"- is to be found in our discovery of trust and compassion.

In that one elegant. paragraph, my friend helped me to see something in a way that I had never before considered. I was being reminded (as I had been reminded by the friend I mentioned earlier) that the answer is not to ask God to make our problems go away, but rather to help us understand and appreciate ourselves and develop the wisdom to find our own answers. If we truly believe that we are children of our Father in Heaven, then we must believe that we have the capacity to find answers and work together on reconciling our differences. This, I believe, is how God works. Through us.

Although you and I may approach the issue of homosexuality from different perspectives, I believe that much can be gained by working together. Rather than wishing that homosexuality would disappear, perhaps God has a purpose for his homosexual children that we have yet to discover. This is obvious to me, since so many homosexuals have not had their homosexuality removed either through Godís grace and mercy, nor through the hard work of the homosexuals themselves. There is clearly something more to be learned, some wisdom to be had, some charity to be developed. And perhaps, as we explore this issue, we may find some unexpected answers as I have done.

I have learned some beautiful concepts from my friends. I have also learned a great many things from talks such as yours. I have learned things that I never expected, things that go well beyond the mere words we use to communicate. The message in your talk has inspired many people, each in a unique way. And hopefully, it has resulted in hearts that have changed, as it did with me, again in a unique way. For me, my gratitude comes because your message gives me/us another chance to reexamine reality, to foster an atmosphere for meaningful discussion, and to ask relevant questions. These questions, in turn, lead to growth and new understanding, hence, greater capacity for charity. I have been reminded that we certainly need more answers; that the answers we cling to presently are incredibly insufficient. I have been reminded that the path is not an easy one. In fact, for many of us, it is a very painful process, but one that provides opportunity for spiritual strength.

One of the great blessings and mighty changes that has occurred in my life as a result of your talk is that I have been inspired to add to my own testimony, to continue to search for truth, and to share my testimony with others. I have been inspired to be of greater service in my efforts to educate others and help ease the pain that surrounds those dealing with this particular issue. I have been inspired to let my voice be heard and to no longer remain silent. I know there is a tremendous need to help bring about compassion and kindness towards homosexuals. There is a need for understanding. I am inspired to be a greater influence in helping others to experience the beautiful change that I have experienced. For these blessings, I am grateful.

Please allow me to share with you my story briefly and what I have learned from my experience. My story is actually quite common. I come from a strong Mormon family. My father was a bishop and my mother served in the Relief Society presidency of our ward. As I was growing up, I strove to be as perfect as possible. I was a top student in school and seminary. I went on a mission and graduated from BYU with top honors. Spirituality was always a major focus in my life. I developed a strong testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and attempted my best to live its principles. From all appearances, I seemed to be a model Mormon.

In actuality I was a terrific hypocrite. For much of my life, I lived a deception, lying to those around me as well as to myself. And I believed that my deception, my hypocrisy, was noble. I hid my true feelings from everyone. I was ashamed because, as I grew older, I realized that society and the Church had a very ugly description of what I was feeling. These were feelings that I had experienced from the earliest of my memories, beginning at the age of four. These feelings, I would later learn, were considered homosexual. And I fought it. I fought myself. This fight was my ticket to acceptance. And many times I was sure that I had won the fight.

I didnít realize that I was fighting my very essence. I appeared so secure on the outside, but inside I was dying. My secret thoughts of death and self-hatred were abundantly apparent. My journals are saturated with references of hatred, loneliness, anger, and fear. I had no one to turn to, no one to talk to. I dated girls in an attempt to change my feelings. I counseled with priesthood leaders who admitted that they knew little about homosexuality. I threw myself into my studies and Church service. My prayers were unending.

I have a great testimony of prayer. It has always proven to be a spiritual strength in my life. My prayers are always answered. And I wondered with great disappointment why God was not answering my prayers to change my homosexuality. There were times when I thought I had changed and I expressed this to my priesthood leaders. They were convinced. But in my heart something always whispered that I was no different.

Then my prayers were answered miraculously over time as I fell in love. My heart had finally been prepared to accept the love that flowed from my soul. This was the single most beautiful experience in my entire life. The impact of this relationship overshadowed everything I had ever experienced. I learned so much and grew in ways I never thought possible. This love was for another man. This love was as rich as the love Iíve seen with any heterosexual. In fact, many of my heterosexual friends were jealous that they werenít experiencing such a deep and meaningful love.

Then over the course of the next several years, I began my journey of truly understanding what it meant to be homosexual as well as truly understanding what the gospel meant in my heart. It would take me hundreds of pages to tell the full story. I have much of it recorded in my journals, letters, and other notes. But for the sake of this letter, I wanted to touch on a few key points.

My relationship ended with a great deal of pain. My companion, who was also struggling with his homosexual feelings, was instructed by his priesthood leaders to cut me out of his life completely. He did just that. With all contact severed and not much of an explanation, my world crashed upon me. I hit the bottom and was about to give up everything. I wanted nothing more than to simply die. And as I tried looking for answers, I was exposed to talks by Church leaders who addressed the issue of homosexuality. They spoke in much the same way that you did recently. And though I had heard those concepts presented many times, I still felt as though something was not quite right. All of the explanations, all of the counsel, did not match with my experience. I had so many questions that needed to be answered. And I was determined to find those answers or die. I prayed to my Father in Heaven with a energy I had never before prayed with, asking God to either end my life or to help me understand and to give me comfort.

And the answers came. The comfort and understanding came. They came in miraculous ways that were a stronger witness to me of Godís involvement in my life than any other experience Iíve ever had. For the next several years, up to and including the present time, I have gained a spiritual connection with God that finally means a great deal to me. As I studied the gospel and researched the issue of homosexuality, I finally found a sense of peace and reconciliation that filled my soul with joy. Miracles occurred in my life. The scriptures were rich in meaning. My prayers were being answered. And I was glad to be alive. I literally felt a rebirth in my life. I experienced a change. And that change was to accept my homosexuality as a gift from God and to know that the love I felt was beautiful. The fruits of this experience have been good. I continue to learn and grow. And I have a strong desire to share my testimony with others.

But I still have a lot of questions. And I have several concerns as I have gotten to know many homosexuals and studied the research that has been done. I can clearly see that the current situation is not a productive one. Too much suffering still exists. Answers are not sought enough to help soften this suffering. We are not working together yet to show genuine charity to our homosexual brothers and sisters.

One of the ideas in your talk seems to be that you discard the biological evidence because you hold to the idea that if one were born homosexual, then Godís plan would be frustrated; homosexuals would be less likely to change, which would lead to discouragement, disappointment and despair. First of all, I appreciate the kindness you exhibit in wanting to help homosexuals who face discouragement, disappointment, and despair. I very much respect your integrity in being considerate of the feelings that homosexuals have. I believe that is a Christ-like virtue and that many would do well in learning from your example. So rarely do people stop to even consider the legitimate emotions and feelings that homosexuals tend to deal with on a daily basis. Instead, people often make rash judgements that completely sidestep the real issue. So again, I am grateful to your sensitivity in wanting to ease the burden that homosexuals feel. But I would like to point out a few things that perhaps you have not yet considered.

People often assume that homosexuals are unhappy because we are homosexual and struggle to be freed from this condition. The more research I do, the more people I truly get to know, and the more I pray and search for answers spiritually, the more I am struck with the fact that homosexuality itself is not the cause of unhappiness. And discouragement, disappointment, and despair are not caused by theories or testimonies that discourage homosexuals from changing.

It is true that homosexuals do experience discouragement, disappointment, and despair. I believe that everyone experiences these feelings. Likewise, homosexuals also experience peace, contentment, and fulfillment. We experience happiness, joy, and love. When people assume that the only feelings we experience are discouragement, disappointment, and despair, then these people do a great disservice to themselves and to homosexuals. They fail to take into account all of the beautiful feelings that accompany feelings of loving someone and being loved in return. They also fail to make the simple connection that feelings of discouragement, disappointment, and despair are actually caused by many other factors which attempt to discredit the feelings that we are experiencing.

When a homosexual realizes that the feelings he or she has are scorned and scoffed at, he or she soon experiences confusion and doubts his or her own self worth. This condition ultimately leads to discouragement, disappointment, and despair. To a homosexual, his or her feelings of love are genuine. These feelings are not focused on sex. They are focused on the relationship, a relationship as beautiful and as meaningful as any heterosexual relationship. The experiences and feelings that build these relationships are real. One cannot flippantly disregard this. Homosexuals feel love as deeply as anyone else. We feel joy with our loved ones. We feel sorrow in separation. We feel at peace in our commitments. We feel pain in misunderstanding. We experience emotions that all people experience. Our reality must never be ignored. The feelings we experience are not something to be ashamed of; these feelings are something we treasure. To love another and to be loved is something we all value. It is no different for a homosexual. But when one is constantly advised to look upon his or her feelings of love with contempt, then great emotional damage is inevitable. It is a terrible injustice to invalidate a personís capacity to love another.

It is even more insidious to invalidate our spirituality. This is often what happens next. A high percentage of homosexuals are deeply spiritual. We serve in many Church callings, as teachers, counselors, and bishops. Our devotion to the gospel is often unmatched. Our pain from misunderstanding is also unmatched. Many have sought guidance from God with tremendous faith and diligence. Fasting, prayer, scripture study, and service have been the tools for many who seek the truth. Many have prayed for countless hours, following well-intentioned advice, only to find that our homosexual feelings have not changed.

As many homosexuals go through the usual routine of trying to change our orientation, feeling ashamed of who we are, battling feelings of discouragement, disappointment, and despair, we often look to God for the answers. And we find them. In turning to God, we learn to accept ourselves and value ourselves as homosexuals. We receive answers to prayers that let us know that we are okay, that we can stop trying to change because change is not intended for us. We often feel a closeness with God and his Spirit as never before. We have been broken and contrite and open to the love that God has given us. We have deeply profound spiritual experiences, including an awareness that our homosexuality has a purpose and that we are valued in Godís sight as homosexuals. These spiritual experiences are real and have incredible significance. They change peopleís lives without changing our orientation.

Then, too often, when we try to share these experiences, we are laughed at and, again, invalidated. We are told that we canít possibly feel anything spiritual. We are told that the answers we are receiving are not from God. This sort of invalidation is poisonous. If you want to consider the path leading ultimately to discouragement, disappointment, and despair, this type of invalidation is the epitome of the breeding grounds for those feelings. When homosexuals have nowhere else to turn but God, and we plead with him in desperation, determination, humility, and sincerity and are ultimately led to a sense of spiritual peace and rebirth in connection with acceptance of our homosexuality, only to be mockedóthen what else is there? Are we to believe that even God has abandoned us? What sort of God would not hear the cries of his confused children and open his arms with mercy and truth? And when homosexuals do experience that mercy and truth and we are told that it wasnít God after all, then what are we to trust? If fasting and prayer lead to a spiritual rebirth which is then scoffed at, where else can we turn? We risk believing that we are worthless in Godís sight, that he really doesnít love us after all, that we are inherently flawed and without hope. Discouragement. Disappointment. Despair.

Is it any wonder why so many commit suicide? Is it any wonder why so many leave the Church feeling betrayed and embittered? I am amazed at the hundreds of individuals Iíve encountered who have never felt love, support, compassion, or kindness from the Church. Instead we feel a sense of betrayal, rejection, and condemnation. We are turned away, cast out. Fortunately, many of us are able to validate our spiritual experiences within our own hearts and recognize the love and light of God within us. Many of us are able to take up our spiritual journeys on our own without the crutch of an unaccepting organization. Many of us are able to turn the other cheek and forgive as we strive to help those who are like them along the same path. Many know what it means to be truly Christ-like. I have personally seen countless lives turn from discouragement to hope, from disappointment to gratitude, from despair to happiness as these homosexuals come to value who they are rather than change into something they are not.

It is unfortunate that we often get caught up in the debate over causation as if this debate could be at all productive in the first place. I assure you, it will not be. The very fact that homosexuality exists in nature immediately complicates the argument. Research has shown that all mammals studied show incidence of homosexual behavior. One can read about homosexual gulls or mountain sheep that are exclusively homosexual throughout their life-time. BYU is currently doing research with rats to demonstrate the hormonal influences and prenatal development links to homosexuality. The evidence of homosexuality in animals would suggest that nature has a reason for same-sex orientation. Indeed, respected authorities have discussed the possible advantages in a small percentage of a populationís being homosexual. I suppose one could argue that animals, too, learned their behavior or became homosexual following some incident shortly after birth, but this seems absurd to most people.

Then there is the issue of intersexuality. Part of the problem in understanding homosexuality is the inability of some to get beyond the notion that gender is not simply a definition of male and female. The evidence of a significant percentage of children born with intersex characteristics can help us to understand that nature does not produce stereotypical males and females only. The physical gender of some individuals is often ambiguous. The emotional, psychological, and even spiritual dimensions of gender are even less obvious and often cross the lines between what we consider male and female more than we can even begin to comprehend.

For those who wish to believe that homosexuality is an acquired condition, it is convenient to point toward a few respected authorities and even disrespected authorities who claim this to be the case. Those who lean toward biological roots can also find many respected authorities to justify their position. In fact, as research goes, more studies show that popular environmental theories are sorely lacking and that biological research is producing more promising information. While it is true that biological factors are currently inconclusive, so too are environmental factors. If one is to dismiss biology on the basis of a lack of definitive answers then it would be only fair to also dismiss environmental explanations for the same reason. To do otherwise is scientifically irresponsible. Some say that there is no scientific evidence to show that homosexuality is inborn even though several studies have shown distinct differences in the brain structures of homosexual men vs. heterosexual men. To think that homosexual behavior could produce these differences is a possibility but highly unlikely. No two homosexuals are alike. Our lives, our behaviors are as vastly different as those who are heterosexual.

Furthermore, there is no environmental "formula" for producing a homosexual orientation. Theories involving gender identity, emotional deficits, abuse, etc., quickly lead nowhere because environmental elements attributed to homosexuality are not found across the board among homosexuals. Furthermore, these elements can be found in the lives of many heterosexuals. To make assumptions about oneís childhood is both unfair and cruel. One therapy group at BYU insists that homosexuality is caused by childhood abuse. These so-called highly respected authorities immediately try to convince homosexuals that they were abused as children. And when the homosexual student fails to recall any incidents of abuse in his childhood, he is told that his memories have been blocked but that a deeper examination will eventually bring the abuse to the surface. These therapists are quick to point at any indication of discord as abusive. If the homosexual agrees that his relationship with an adult, usually a father or other male figure, encountered any problems, then that is used as evidence of abuse. This type of therapy can only tear families apart. The accusations which are meant to help the homosexual in reality only create new dilemmas, once again leading to discouragement, disappointment, and despair.

Regardless of which theory is followed, it seems apparent that same-sex orientation is established at a very early age, well before the age of accountability. I am not suggesting that people (whether homosexual or heterosexual) must not be accountable for their actions; I am saying that no one chooses his or her sexual orientation. Further studies and testimonies of countless homosexuals have also indicated that sexual orientation is not easily changeable for many and practically impossible for most.

At this point, the truth is simply that no one knows the cause. No one knows the cause of heterosexuality either. When all is said and done, does it really matter whether sexuality is biological, environmental, or a combination of the two? We tend to look at research and respected authorities to support our own opinions.

Perhaps we can look beyond "professionals" to provide answers. Perhaps we can start by understanding the homosexuals themselves. I am continually amazed at how many theories are developed, how much advice is given, and how often judgements are pronounced by heterosexuals who base their theories, advice, and judgements on their own experience. Where, in all of this, are the voices of the homosexuals? It is baffling to think that so few people would take the time to actually talk with those of same-sex orientation and try to understand the feelings and experiences of those who are homosexual. It is particularly sad that, in the Church, the voices of the homosexuals are silenced. Are we to believe that our opinions, our feelings, our experiences, our very reality is irrelevant or invalid? Are we to believe that God does not look on our hearts and feelings and see them as something real? Instead of relying on "professionals," I believe we might do as many homosexuals have done and look to God for answers. We might look to God and inside our hearts, for that is where God speaks to us. And he does speak to us. All of us. Including homosexuals. It is a shame that people donít realize this.

We might also be asking questions rather than clinging to ill-informed opinions passed from one generation to the next, believing in false traditions. I realize that many are afraid to ask questions because questions may lead to answers we are not prepared for. But questions are good. They are, in fact, necessary. If it werenít for asking questions, Joseph Smith would never have inquired of the Lord and restored the gospel. If it werenít for asking questions, the blacks still might not have the priesthood. God expects us to ask, seek, knock. We should study things out in our minds and then inquire of him. Certainly, we must be asking questions regarding homosexuality. This is an area of great concern to many people.

Many people are suffering. This tremendous pain touches the lives of parents, siblings, and friends in addition to the homosexuals themselves. This issue is fraught with so much emotion that people can scarcely discuss it rationally. Too often, the suffering is so intense that suicide results. How many more lives must be lost? How many hearts must be crushed? How many souls must be abused? How manyóbefore we are able to reach out in love instead of condemnation? We must seek answers. We must not stop asking questions.

Some might think we already have the answers. Why, then, are they not working? The supposed answers we think we have are grossly inadequate. The indescribable suffering of so many is an evidence of this. The endless testimonies of troubled men and women faced with the issues of same-sex orientation have shown that we do not yet have the answers. Though well-intended, they are simply missing the mark. There is a constant stream of personal stories relating our attempts to change our orientation. We have done everything we were told to do. Still no change. All the fasting and prayers, scripture reading, and service have not changed our orientation. Some have gone above and beyond what we were told with extra determination and dedication, going the extra mile, and still no change.

Shock therapy was billed as a promising new cure. After years of treating homosexuals with this painful therapy, it was abandoned by virtually all professionals because it yielded no results, only scars. Many homosexuals were counseled to marry. They were told that once they were involved in a heterosexual relationship, their homosexual feelings would disappear. Years later, these men and women realized with discouragement, disappointment, and despair that their feelings have not changed. Not only have they failed to arrive at the results promised to them, they have now involved others who have become innocent victims of misguided advice. Fortunately, homosexuals are no longer advised to get married as a way of resolving their situation.6 But the idea of change continues to pressure homosexual men and women into marriages that are doomed to disaster. The very essence of change is to fulfill a marriage. That is the end goal. Yet too often, these marriages end bitterly. Some are able to part as friends. Few ever succeed. The tragic testimonies of spouses and ex-spouses who are so emotionally damaged by these marriages can fill volumes. And this pain doesnít stop in the telling. It continues with these wives and husbands for many years. I have merely touched on a few of the "answers" that were given to homosexuals: answers that appear to have merit but that ultimately lead to discouragement, disappointment and despair.

Perhaps we think we have the answers because there are some who have claimed change. I donít doubt this. I do believe there are people who may have felt homosexual at one time but are no longer experiencing a same-sex attraction. I realize that many in the Church would like to believe that a substantial number of men and women have indeed changed their orientation. The Church in general believes that it has had enough experience with "changed homosexuals" to conclude that change is not only possible for some but must be possible for all. This rationale is not only unfounded and irresponsible but damaging and dangerous. First of all, we are dealing with a very complex situation. The notion that people are either homosexual or heterosexual is false. There are many who have feelings of varying degrees in one direction, or another or both. Sexual orientation is a continuum. Those claiming change are likely to be those who had fewer homosexual tendencies and more heterosexual tendencies. Some who claim change do so prematurely under pressure from society, only to return to their homosexuality later.

And then thereís the problem of defining "change." Many who claim to have changed are merely talking about their behavior. They will readily admit that their feelings remain unchanged. I have yet to hear from a homosexual who claims to have changed his feelings from completely homosexual to completely heterosexual. Where are all of the so-called "cured" homosexuals? Why arenít they talking? Surely if there were as many as the Church would have us believe, then we would hear more from them, yet we do not. The voices of those who have not changed obliterate the few testimonies of those who have. Why are these voices ignored when there are so many? Why does the Church present only one side of the issue? This is a side that is not represented by most homosexuals. It is a side that is representative of conformity born out of shame, threats, and pressure.

Why are the stories of those who cannot change never told? Why are the stories of those who find happiness through acceptance never told? What about the stories of the spouses of homosexuals? Why are they overlooked? I fear that the general membership of the Church is being misled, not only by stories based on deception but from a lack of other perspectives which are either ignored or often withheld.

I also think we must be cautious about being quick to slap labels of change on individuals without looking at several things first. One of these things is the definition of change which I mentioned previously. Another is the condition upon which change is declared. Many testimonies of change have been given under pressure and coercion. I have heard many people relate stories in which they lied about being changed in order to stop the constant pressure and questioning they were receiving from those who were demanding change. Many other testimonies were quite sincere at the time, but premature. Iíve known countless people who have "changed" for days, weeks, months, even years only to arrive at the conclusion that they had only suppressed their feelings during that period of time, lying to themselves and deceiving those around them. This is not uncommon. Perhaps we should be careful not to classify someone as a changed homosexual until decades have passed without same-sex attraction.

It is one thing to be able to casually claim that there are numerous homosexuals who have changed. It is quite another to relate the personal experiences of many from this group of "success stories." Allow me to give you a brief sampling of those Iíve come in contact with. I have several friends who went through various therapies and counseling and were pronounced "cured." That was several months or several years ago. These men and women are still homosexual and laugh at the idea that they are being used as a statistic of change. A therapist at BYU said that of those homosexuals who go into counseling with a very strong desire to change, only 15 percent actually claim that they have changed. This therapist then went on to say that he didnít even believe those 15 percent because inevitably, as time passed, these men and women were involved homosexually again sometime later. He could point to files filled with testimonies of change. Of these testimonies, he said, they werenít worth the paper they were written on.

I know of several married men who are championed as changed homosexuals. All of these men have also had extramarital affairs recently. I can think of a dozen such men off the top of my head. One of these men has written many testimonies and has spoken about his changed condition to many homosexuals. And yet this man continues to cheat on his wife with other men. How does he do it? He claims he has changed. In reality, he has just become a skilled liar. He calls his affairs "set-backs" and temporary temptations. And yet these temporary temptations and set-backs continue to happen, but as long as he believes he is changing, he feels comfortable about cheating on his wife. I find this type of behavior shocking and inexcusable. But as long as he is on a pedestal as one deserving respect because he claims change, then he will continue to live this lie. I cannot respect that.

Often we are creating conditions that appear to be of value on the surface but in reality are doing more damage than good. Surely the man who is cheating on his wife because he has the title of a "changed homosexual" is not something we should be proud of. It is sad when we have to place women, children, and the homosexuals themselves in a position that satisfies what people want to hear at the sacrifice of the innocent lives involved. How many of those "cured" homosexuals are actually fulfilled in their marriages? I can introduce you to several who are not. I can introduce you to men who regret following the advice they were given to get married. I can introduce you to men who think daily about committing suicide as a way of escaping. I can introduce you to men who are so ashamed of themselves that they blame their wives for their misery. I can also introduce you to countless wives who have been emotionally and psychologically scarred at levels that cut so deep that many are never able to trust or love again. The road of injuries is just beginning for these women. The suffering touches so many lives.

One man, who was used extensively as an example of someone who had changed, recently committed suicide because he could not bear to live the lie any longer. The pressure of upholding a false image was too much and he took his own life. What price are we willing to pay to be able to point to a few "success stories?" What is the cost in human life and emotion to do this? Why do we continue to point to a few testimonies padded with a few more flawed testimonies at the expense of those witnesses to the contrary?

I was one of those statistics. I claimed change. I was used as an example to other homosexuals as one who had overcome my sexuality. And I am embarrassed by that. I no longer wish to support such a lie. I want others to know that I havenít changed. I donít want to be used as proof that everyone can change because everyone cannot change. That is a fact. I am one of those people who cannot change their orientation. That is a fact. I have tried to do that very thing for the greater part of my life. And most people who take the time to research information on homosexuality or even talk to a fair sampling of homosexuals will realize and conclude that most homosexuals are unable to alter their orientation. That is a fact.

Yes, there may be some homosexuals who have changed. And that is also a fact. But just because a few people claim change, does not mean that their experiences translate into the lives of the remaining homosexuals. These things simply cannot be applied across the board. Most homosexuals can testify of the futility of change. Most have tried it and nearly all have realized that change is not possible for them and, eventually, not even desirable. Why fix something that isnít broken? And why is it that some can change and some cannot? I know it would make a lot of people very comfortable if they could simply say, "Well, if some can change, then of course all of them can change." Too bad itís not that simple. With that reasoning, all heterosexuals should be able to change their orientation, too, a notion that I find ridiculous.

There are so many factors involved with orientation that at this point it is impossible to say why a few can change and why so many cannot. A particularly destructive form of reasoning is that those who cannot change have not tried hard enough. What is hard enough? How much suffering is hard enough? Too many homosexuals have done all that was asked of us and more. We have attempted at great cost to change, going beyond what was required of us, and still we were denied change. If God required change, then his denial of that change to all those who have earnestly attempted to change is viciously inconsistent. His silence is cruel. What sort of God would do this to his children? If God wanted his homosexual children to become heterosexual, then why does he make it so difficult, if not impossible, for us to gain that? Does he have a particular dislike for us? Are we of little importance? Does he require us to knock at the door until our knuckles are bloodied? Does he require us to cry in discouragement, disappointment, and despair; and if we lose hope along the way, then too bad? Will he say, "You didnít try hard enough"? Will he say, "You needed to bleed more. You needed to suffer more"?

The God I worship is kind and loving. He is compassionate and eager to embrace. He does not withhold his love and understanding. He does not withhold answers from those who seek them. He does not require a life of blood-letting for a condition not chosen in the first place. Many people assume that homosexuals must suffer a great deal in our struggle to change because that suffering must match the severity of the "sin." The plaster must be as wide as the crack. The pain must be as excruciating as the problem. This simplistic way of thinking immediately has many inconsistencies. First of all, do other transgressors of the law of chastity suffer to this extent? I doubt it. Why are they not required to knock until their knuckles are bloodied? They can resolve their transgression through a meaningful marriage or a recommitment to marriage. While this may not be an easy thing to do and I donít mean to detract from the serious pain involved, I do want to point out a difference. Their repentance doesnít negate their feelings. They are not required to stop loving. They are not required to view their love as evil. They are not told repeatedly that the feelings they have are not really feelings of love. They are not told that their feelings will never be fulfilled because they are not a part of Godís plan. They are not required to hear disparaging remarks about the love that they feel. There is a difference.

Another inconsistency with the idea that homosexuals have such difficulty in change because the sin is so deeply rooted is the assumption that all homosexuals are acting on their feelings. I have heard the testimonies of many homosexuals who never acted on their feelings but struggled with intense pain for years, even decades, over something that was such a part of them even though they had never behaved homosexually. Certainly, if we were to believe that these people could then be changed without such suffering because there was no sin, then again it would be cruel for God to deny them change and demand instead a lifelong struggle of tormented and misunderstood feelings. It is not merely a behavior.

Why is it that so many people canít see past the sexual aspects of homosexuality? Indeed, it is unfortunate that sex is the root of the word homosexuality because sex certainly is not at the heart of same-sex orientation for many, if not most homosexuals. It would be equally preposterous to assume that sex is the main focus for heterosexuals. By definition, a homosexual is not someone who is having sex. It is someone who experiences same-sex attraction. It is a person who finds fulfillment in the companionship of someone of his or her own gender. It involves feelings. I reiterate, we love and want to be loved just like anyone else.

Perhaps it is impossible for some people to understand this. And because they canít understand this, they must imagine all sorts of distorted views to help them ignore the idea that we feel love. They imagine that we are confused about our gender. We are not gender-confused. We are not afraid or ashamed or disconnected from our gender. They imagine that we are suffering from an addiction. The need to love and be loved is not an addiction. We can be just as responsible and respectful of our feelings and our sexuality as anyone. They imagine that we are not happy. We are very happy. Our unhappiness comes from an intolerant and ignorant society. It comes from the confusion of misinformation and the shame associated with homosexuality. When people canít even discuss the topic without acting embarrassed, then we must expect those who experience homosexual feelings to have internalized that self-doubt and self-hatred. This is where the unhappiness lies. We are unhappy because we are not allowed to love. We are denied the opportunity to marry those whom we bond with. We are not even allowed to talk about our loved ones. The love that we experience is, in fact, discredited. Discouragement. Disappointment. Despair.

Another theme to your talk seems to be that the idea of social correctness is a false doctrine. While I do not intend to discuss social correctness here, I do wish to point out the message that seems to be coming across, not only in your talk but in the talks of many leaders who have spoken about homosexuality. The message seems to be that society errs in trying to understand and be tolerant of homosexuals. The message seems to be that homosexuals should not be accepted for who we are, but that we should be subject to condemnation, discrimination, and, ultimately, ostracism. Indeed, the message simply seems to be that homosexuals are deserving of hatred, abuse, and even death. I realize this sounds terribly strong and not at all what you or other leaders intended. I realize that you believe in compassion, kindness, and charity. I realize that you would not condone violence, prejudice, or persecution toward any of Godís children.

But a message of love and compassion is not reaching the general membership. Quite the contrary, a message that helps promote persecution is being delivered. I have yet to hear something nice said about homosexuals over the pulpit. Attributes that often are linked to homosexuality (such as sensitivity or artistic abilities) are never mentioned. People fail to recognize the great contributions to society and culture that homosexuals have given. And, yes, these qualities are linked to our homosexuality. Talk with several homosexuals, and we can testify to this. But instead of recognizing the worth that homosexuals have, too often speakers tend to mock and malign those of a same-sex orientation. We are grouped with pedophiles and murderers. We are called threats to the Church. We are labeled as perverts and sinners. We are joked about and made to feel shame. Often times, even the mention of homosexuality seems to evoke feelings of fear and disgust. How do you think this makes a homosexual feel? Discouraged? Disappointed? Despairing?

One has only to listen to the general membership talk about homosexuality to see the impact that these messages have. Recently a BYU student defended his prejudice towards homosexuals in a letter to the editor, saying that the Church requires him to be prejudiced. Another student at UVSC threatened physical violence towards homosexuals because they were not living according to the teachings of the Church. A woman whom I work with regularly bashes homosexuals verbally with a rage and a hatred that are frightening. She would like to see them all dead. She uses quotes from talks such as yours to defend her stance. She feels justified in her bigotry because a Church leader has, in essence, given her permission to hate. I recently came across this message posted on a local on-line bulletin board. At one point the author states, "In fact, Elder Faust [in a] BYU devotional ... detailed the evils of tolerance. He said that Satan wants us to tolerate homosexuals, pro-choicers and other religions. So Iíll claim for the moment that not only is tolerance not a moral virtue, in the Church, itís a sin!"

The best friend I ever had turned against me at the promptings of his Church leadership. He was urged to completely sever all contact with me because of my orientation. He used the oft-misused statement of "love the sinner, but hate the sin" as justification for cutting me off. He said many hurtful things that have caused my heart to ache and cry over the past four years when he told me he never wanted to speak to me again.

He has perfected his hatred and intolerance of the sin that he perceives I have committed. I have yet to see any love. I am afraid that my most meaningful relationship has been destroyed because he was taught that rejection and meanness toward homosexuals were requirements and that kindness, empathy, and friendship towards homosexuals were unacceptable.

This is only a small sampling of recent remarks I have heard which seem to be running rampant in the Church. As I listen to accounts by friends and acquaintances, I am shocked and troubled by the vast amount of persecution that exists towards homosexuals. Have we not learned from our own past of persecution as a Church to see that this is wrong? As I have listened to remarks such as these, I have noticed that the most bitter, hateful people who fight against the understanding of homosexuality are often quick to back their statements with the words of the Church leadership. Isnít it ironic that hatred is masked behind good intentions? Why do people do this? Why do they hate? Why do they wish harm on another individual? Why do they cling to the harsh words of Church leaders to defend their attacks? Why donít they hear recommendations to treat all with kindness and love that have also been spoken?

Why? Because towards homosexuals, there are no words of kindness and love. How do you think all of this makes a person with same-sex orientation feel? This fact alone will ultimately lead to discouragement, disappointment, and despair. Fortunately, there are many among the general membership whose lives have been touched by knowing a homosexual. These people, whether they are parents, siblings, or friends, have been able to get past the misinformation and prejudice surrounding homosexuality and have shown genuine love and understanding. These people have no authorities to quote. They rely on the expressions of their own hearts because therein lies the truth about their experiences. And when these family members or friends are ridiculed for their acceptance, they, too, ultimately feel discouragement, disappointment, and despair.

The Church views social and political acceptance of homosexuals as being harmful and as doing the homosexuals themselves a disservice. The Church focuses on counteracting attempts to legitimize same-sex relationships. It warns about the dangers of such things. Yet how can it do this? "It is a moral issue," the Church says. Yet how can it say this? How can the Church possibly help remove the mote in societyís eye when it has a beam in its own? It is, in fact, so blinded by this beam that the greater moral damage is being incurred by the Church. Perhaps if it could remove its own prejudices and misunderstandings, then it would be in a better position to assist those who are struggling with this issue.

If being homosexual is a "cross" that some of us must bear, as the Church sometimes suggests, then why doesnít the Church show charity in helping to bear that burden or lighten the load? Didnít Alma at the Waters of Mormon teach us to bear one anotherís burdens, to mourn with those who mourn, to comfort those who stand in need of comfort? What the Church currently offers homosexuals is far from comfort. In fact, if anything, the Church makes the burden to be borne heavier. It creates a condition of mourning, of discomfort.

It "is not good for man to be alone." Yet the Church insists that homosexuals live their lives alone. That is a burden. Other single people in the Church are told that one day their romantic feelings will be realized. Homosexuals are told that their feelings will never be realized. That is a burden. Homosexuals are instructed to disassociate with each other (often the only people who can understand us). That is a burden. Homosexuals are told that we are perverse, evil, and unworthy of Godís love. That is a burden. Homosexuals are not welcomed in the Church. We are maligned and made fun of. We are not allowed to hold callings. The missionaries are asked not to teach us. That is a burden. Homosexuals are discouraged from trusting the spiritual promptings that we were meant to accept our homosexuality. That is a burden. Homosexuals are surrounded by a society that rejoices in relationships and marriage. And yet we are denied opportunities to develop companionships. That is a burden. We watch as our family members and friends are encouraged to date, to relate their feelings of love. We celebrate this. Homosexuals are despised for discussing our feelings. We are treated as if our feelings are shameful. No one wants to even talk about it. That is a burden. Homosexuals are characterized by a sexual act, nothing more. That is a burden. Homosexuals are forced to believe that we are broken, in need of repair. That is a burden. Homosexuals are smugly told that the very God who created us rejects us and has turned from us. That is a burden.

Is it any wonder why so many homosexuals give up and die? Why suicide is so inviting? Why spirituality is shunned? Why addiction to drugs, alcohol, or even sex is a means of escape? Why membership in the Church is so painful? Why bitterness is encountered so often? Is it any wonder?

I realize that I have written more than necessary to share my thoughts and I appreciate your patience through such a lengthy letter. I hope you will forgive my redundancies, but I felt a need to emphasize and reemphasize so many observations. I also hope you will forgive my sharpness at times. My intention was not to lash out but rather to express my concerns. My emotions on this subject are deep and sometimes raw. Even though I have experienced much personal healing on the matter, I encounter individuals every week who are currently struggling in tremendous pain. And in a sense, I relive the experience again. I will not forget the pain. Hopefully, I will forgive.

Until we can stop judging and start loving each other and forgiving each other, we all stand to suffer. No one wins. Everyone loses. The homosexual man or woman loses. The parent or sibling of the homosexual loses. The Church loses. But I donít believe that this will happen. Godís work will not be frustrated. I know that truth, justice, love, and mercy will eventually be realized when all of us choose to understand rather than ignore, when we choose to bear one anotherís burdens rather than belittle, when we choose charity rather than condemnation. This is my prayer and my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ.

Sincerely,

Jeff M. Durning

THE AFTERMATH

A week to the day from the time I mailed the letter, I received a call from Blair Jamison, my stake president. I have known President Jamison, an educator, since I was a teenager. My father has been a bishop in the area, and President Jamison knew our whole family. In fact, President Jamison had been working with me for the past several years on homosexuality. I had been celibate since that relationship in my twenties. I had been living with my parents for the previous four years while I saved to buy a new home and had been attending church sporadically in their ward. I visited other wards and also used Sundays as a time to talk with other gay individuals who were struggling with these issues and who needed a friend.

At the time, I helped run a support group for gays and lesbian Mormons, read a lot of books, and talked with a lot of people. Perhaps the most important factóat least it is the most important fact for meóis that few, if any, people choose to be homosexual, and they canít change it. To tell them that their only hope is in changing is very damaging. Iíve shared this information in a candid but nonconfrontive way with many individuals but never really discussed it in depth with any sense of real understanding with President Jamison until after I wrote the letter to Elder Faust.

President Jamison has had little experience in dealing with homosexual issues. His understanding of homosexuality was based on very little information and mostly stereotypes. For eight or ten years, my relationship with President Jamison had been fairly open. He had never threatened me with disciplinary action other than probation.

I received a call from the stake clerk who was responsible for making appointments for the stake president. He wanted to arrange a time for me to meet with President Jamison and left a message for me to call him. I had an appointment that night, so I arranged to meet with President Jamison Wednesday evening, 1 March.

During the meeting President Jamison said, "Iíve just received a telephone call from Elder Faust." I instantly knew what the call was about. He continued, "We had a brief conversation. Elder Faust mentioned that there was a homosexual living in my stake who was Ďcontentí with his homosexuality."

He paused. I was upset and did not want to react emotionally, but I couldnít help thinking how ironic it was that the crime I was charged with was that of being contented. He said, "It was decided that a court action would have to be taken and that excommunication was likely." I canít remember what I saidóthe beginnings of a protest. He said casually, "You knew when you wrote this letter that excommunication was a possibility."

"Yes," I answered, "but I tried not to put anything in the letter that would trigger a defensive reaction.

President Jamison didnít ask if I was keeping the commandments of the Church. My personal history didnít come into the conversation. I got the feeling that he didnít want to take action but felt that he was carrying out the Churchís instructions. He asked, "Would you be willing to go to a group like Evergreen?"

I was surprised because Evergreen had never come up in our conversations before. Iím not even sure whether he knew about it during our conversations. He said, "Iíve been working with a fellow who is now going to Evergreen meetings. He claims heís transitioning out of homosexuality."

I said I wouldnít go. It wasnít clear to me at this point whether he had a copy of the letter Iíd written to Elder Faust. But since my letter made it pretty clear that I felt Evergreen, whatever good it might be doing, was also providing a cover for Mormon homosexuals to continue their homosexual activities while being used as role models of "change," I had no confidence that this kind of experience would be helpful in the slightest degree. I explained, "Evergreen contains a lot of people whom I think have been very damaged. Iíve read their literature. You have to agree to change, and my integrity says that I canít say that I will change."

The conversation was more or less over.

I asked about the court. He seemed uncomfortable and said, "You can come to the court if you want to, but you donít have to." I think he was trying to spare my feelings.

I asked, "Would I be able to explain my thoughts, my feelings, my history?"

"I donít think so," he answered. "I donít think Iíd want you to do that unless it would counter the charges being made."

"And the charges are that Iím contented being a homosexual?" I clarified. He nodded. "Well, I wouldnít be countering them," I continued "because I am content. But I want to have a chance to explain my background, feelings, and history."

"How about this instead, Jeff?" offered President Jamison. "Iíd be willing to talk to you. You can explain anything you want to say to the high council. Letís do it right now. Iím not averse to being educated. I feel that thereís something I havenít understood."

He agreed to meet with me on Sunday, 5 March, and seemed quite cheerful. I got the feeling that I would almost certainly be excommunicated, that the decision had already been made but that they would be gracious if I wanted to show up for the formalities. I could talk and theyíd listen, but they werenít really interested in how I felt.

He again asked if I was interested in trying to change. Again, I said I wasnít. In fact, I said, I was pursuing a path of celibacy now, but I hoped to have a partner in the future. He didnít say anything.

I went home and thought about my options. It seemed I had two. First, I could talk with him on Sunday, lay it all out for him as I had for Elder Faustóand then stay away from the trial, and let them take me out of the picture without resisting. Or, second, I could go to the court, bring some people to support my position, explain my story there, and ask them to listen to the perspectives of the witnesses Iíd brought.

Iím not a confrontational person. I donít want to create conflict, but I do want to make it better for others who are in the same situation. I wrote the letter because I was tired of being silent. I had a lot of respect for President Jamison and didnít want to drag him into a confrontational situation, but I felt a real obligation to tell my story. And the timing couldnít have been worse. Iíd caught some kind of flu and was also trying to move into my new home. (The move had nothing to do with jurisdiction. Although I was moving into the boundaries of another ward, I was still in the same stake.)

I felt that my family should know, so I told my parents. I couldnít tell what my father felt. I know he loves me but he also feels a tremendous loyalty to the Church. My mother was very crushed. She felt that Elder Faust and President Jamison were being very unfair. My sister and her husband were irate. My sister later told me that she hadnít been able to sleep at all the night I told them. I was particularly touched by my brother-in-lawís reaction, because his father is gay and had divorced his mother. My brother-in-law had always had quite bitter feelings, not only about his father but about all homosexuals, until he got to know me. He told me that he would be willing to attend the court with me.

The word of the impending court action spread quickly among the gay community in Utah Valley. When a support group of Family Fellowship met Thursday night, most of those present were enraged. Several of the couples offered to attend the court with me, defend me as a witness, and present views about why this action would be inappropriate. Gary Watts, who has studied the causes and treatments of homosexuality for six years, said he would be willing to present an overview of those topics and also, as a former high councilor, point out how such an action would violate the conditions spelled out in the General Handbook of Instructions. I was very touched by their concern.

On Saturday morning, a friend gave me a copy of the section of the General Handbook of Instructions that talks about disciplinary councils. I read it closely and realized that the only grounds for action that it specifies are homosexual actions.7 I guess I was a little less resigned to going quietly and meekly at that point. I was feeling more keenly how unfair the action was, from Elder Faustís reaction to President Jamisonís obvious feeling that his only option was to excommunicate me.

On Sunday, I went to a two-hour meeting with President Jamison and explained what I had learned from my reading, from my working with others, and from my own experiences. It was basically everything I believed in. I shared my testimony that Iíve arrived at this position through a spiritual experience.

I could tell that it took President Jamison aback when I explained that there were no grounds for a court because I was celibate. He admitted that he assumed that I was sexually active because I not only acknowledged having homosexual feelings but also that I was accepting of those feelings. It was a novel idea to him that gay people werenít just out being promiscuous, that gays could be celibate, and that we really wanted monogamous, loving relationships. It stunned him. From what he said, I gathered that his experience has been confined to working with perhaps two homosexuals in the past and that both were involved in relationships about which they felt very guilty and ashamed. He had many small-town stereotypes about gay people, and I was able to explain to him a whole new side that heíd never contemplated before.

At the end of the two hours, President Jamison said, "Well, thank you for coming in. Iíll get back to you." I left the meeting not knowing quite what he meant but feeling good that he had listened and that some of the information had been new to him. Did I dare believe that he might think about this new information? Pray about it? Change his mind because of it?

A few days later, I received a letter from Elder Faust. It began with an apology that he had not responded more promptly. He had been traveling. He continued:

... It certainly was not my intent [in my devotional address] to cause pain and anguish to anyone. On the contrary, I desired to give some measure of hope to those who find themselves in same-sex orientation. I am sure you are well acquainted with the doctrine of sexual purity which obtains in the Church, both for homosexual[s] as well as those who claim the same-sex orientation. It simply is that the Church does not seek to discipline anyone for thoughts, but only when those thoughts are acted out outside the relationship of the life-giving union of man and wife in marriage. That standard is for all people, whether male or female, of any race, old or young. President Hunter has invited everyone warmly and genuinely to be part of the Church, and that includes all people including those who may be dealing with issues of homosexuality.

I think it is imperative that we hold out to all mankind that it is within their power to change. I think the Lord is trying to establish a plan of happiness for his children, and invite them to participate in it. Perhaps people cannot change through faith alone. It may require, in addition to faith, a sincere desire and some counseling. We have had enough experience in the Church to know that some people can and do change their sexual orientation. One has to ask, if they can why canít everyone? What I have written may be no comfort to you, but I offer it very genuinely and sincerely.

I pray our Heavenly Fatherís choicest blessings to be with you and yours.

Sincerely,
James E. Faust

 

Elder Faustís statement that I may not have been comforted by his comments was correct. I felt that I was being brushed off. His letter was in no way a response to me personally nor to the issues that I had raised in my letter, hoping to continue the discussion in a respectful way. The letter, in essence, though phrased kindly, basically said, "Iím acknowledging that I received your letter. But I donít want to deal with you or the issues you raise. I want no continuing dialogue with you. Iíve made up my mind about gay people." This sense was confirmed when I learned that others who had expressed similar concerns about his address had received the identical letter.

On Monday evening, 6 March, Ellison Blake, my former bishop from right after my mission and a member of President Jamisonís high council, came over, and I went through the whole issue again with him. My mother had asked him to come to the house, believing he would be sympathetic and helpful. His deceased brother-in-law had been gay so he had a little background and was consequently more sympathetic than President Jamison. He asked personal questions and tried hard to understand how I felt.

At one point he asked, "So youíre saying that this threat of being excommunicated is almost like someone accusing you of committing a robbery because youíve thought about robbery?"

"Not quite," I answered, "because robbery is immoral. I donít think homosexuality is immoral. Loving someone is not immoral."

He urged, "You really need to show up at that court and explain this to people." He also volunteered to talk to President Jamison and try to dissuade him from holding the court. He agreed that court action must be based on sexual expression, and then, quite awkwardly, admitted, "I just assumed you were being sexual because you admit to being homosexual." Like President Jamison, he seemed surprised that homosexuals could define themselves outside of a behavior, that they could be celibate. Once he made the connection that I had homosexual feelings but was not involved sexually, he seemed to get the point that the grounds for a court were simply missing.

On Tuesday night, 7 March, I returned a call from President Jamison. My parents had called him to talk over the situation, upset because they felt that Elder Faust wanted me excommunicated. My father had been quite confrontive, demanding, "Whatís going on with Elder Faust wanting to kick my son out of the Church?" President Jamison had reassured them that Elder Faust had not instructed President Jamison to excommunicate meówhich was the form that the rumor had taken by now. During the course of our conversation, President Jamison cleared his throat and said abruptly, "I need to clear up a misunderstanding. Elder Faust did not ask me to do anything with your case. He just said, ĎYouíve got a member whoís content with his homosexuality."í President Jamison assured me that it was not Church policy for a General Authority to make such decisions. I knew this, of course, but President Jamisonís behavior during the first interview had certainly given me a different impression.

He also admitted that "a lot of people" had been talking to him. I knew that a number of my friends had wanted to write him letters urging him not to hold a court. I could tell that President Jamison was uneasy and uncomfortable. At this point, I felt deeply at peace within myself. On one level, it truly didnít matter what happened; but I was curious to know if President Jamison had gone ahead and set a court date. He hadnít.

The conversation ended with his saying, "Well, Iím reconsidering the court. I need a few days to think about it." I felt a stirring of hope for the first time. My meeting with him two days earlier on Sunday morning had concluded with the understanding that a court would be held. Thatís obviously what Bishop Blake thought when he came over on Monday. And now, the stake president was "reconsidering." I waited; and while I waited, I prayed.

Iím still waiting, but I think my prayers were answered. From that point on, the record is silent. I donít know if President Jamison had any additional contacts with Elder Faust. I donít know if he made an affirmative decision or if he postponed making a decision and let the lengthening days of silence become his decision. He was released as stake president during the next year. He had not contacted me by the time of his release. His successor has never contacted me. I do not attend church in my ward but have monthly contact with the home teachers and have been visited once by the bishop as my membership records were transferred to the new ward. My membership to this day is still intact.

I continue to work with local support groups and, on occasion, make presentations to college classes, educating them about homosexuality. This involvement is still very important to me because I enjoy the service. I also find great hope in seeing the trend toward greater acceptance for homosexuals and in knowing that homosexuals are finding more accurate information and are more comfortable with themselves than ever before.

As I look back on this experience when the threat of excommunication was the focal point in my life, I remember a feeling that came over me and has stayed with me since. I often use an analogy to describe it. Before I wrote that letter to Elder Faust, I was like a child learning to walk. I needed support, someone to hold me up, to teach me how to walk, to be there to keep me from falling when I lost my balance. That is how I viewed the Church. It was my support. I depended on it to keep me balanced and standing. It was a great comfort at the time. But like a child learning to walk, the time came when I had to let go of the parentís hand and learn to walk on my own. The letter to Elder Faust and the threat of excommunicationóof being cut off or shaken loose from that steadying handóallowed me to finally take a stand on my own and learn to walk on my own. Of course, I knew there would be times when I would lose my balance and fall flat on my face, but I finally felt ready to take full responsibility for my lifeóto let go of that external source of support and encouragement (which can also be a source of discouragement and punishment), and try to walk as an adult.

I have ambiguous feelings about my Church membership. Iíd spent my life being very dedicated to the Church, and Elder Faustís talk forced me to face the fact that gay people just donít have a place in it now. I get the feeling from my bishop, home teachers, and ward members that I would be welcomedóbut only as a "recovering homosexual." Since I wonít pretend to be heterosexual, nor will I hide who I am, nor agree to feel ashamed, it has seemed better to me to spend time formerly devoted to Church callings working with other homosexuals who need some insight and understanding. I do believe that understanding will continue to evolve in the Church. When I feel accepted by the Church as a homosexual, then I will return to full activity, if that day ever comes. If it doesnít, I m okay with that, too. I feel a great sense of peace and calm. Letting go has been hard, but I know that, ill fall, I have the capability within myself to stand up again, to walk forward, and even to run on my spiritual legs that Iíve exercised through faith.

 

Endnotes:

1"Jeff M. Durning" is a pseudonym, as are the names of the President Blair Jamison and Bishop Ellison Blake. Punctuation and capitalization have been standardized in the quoted documents.

2Notes transcribed from audio-tape of live broadcast by KBYU-FM, 15 November 1994, in my possession; Elder James E. Faust, "Trying to Serve the Lord without Offending the Devil," BYU Devotional, Marriott Center, photocopy of typescript in my possession.

3Peggy Fletcher Stack, "LDS Apostle Sees Devil in Toleration of ĎSins,'" Salt Lake Tribune, 19 November 1994, C-2; Jeff Vice, "Political Correctness Isnít Correct, LDS Official Says," Deseret News, 16-17 Nov. 1994, B-3.

41n his oral presentation, Elder Faust said, "No scientific evidence demonstrates absolutely, absolutely, that this is so." It was an intensifying technique which, ironically, had the effect of communicating, "There still remains a small shred of doubt about this theory."

5Faust, ĎTrying to Serve the Lord Without Offending the Devil," 3; ĎServing the Lord and Resisting the Devil,í Ensign, September 1995, 5.

6Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems: Suggestions for Ecclesiastical Leaders (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1992), 4.

7The General Handbook of Instructions mentions homosexuality once in the section on disciplinary councils: "homosexual relations" are listed among the "serious transgression[s]" for which a disciplinary council is mandatory if the transgressor was holding a "prominent Church position" at the time (March 1989, 10-4).