Question: Is there an "epidemic" of suicide among gay Mormons?

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Question: Is there an "epidemic" of suicide among gay Mormons?

The Church recognizes that both being a member of the church and having same-sex attraction is a difficult circumstance

Critics charge that:

  • suicide rates are higher for those with same-sex attraction
  • Church doctrine and teaching causes these higher suicide rates
  • there is an "epidemic" of suicide among gay Mormons

The Church recognizes that both being a member of the church and having same-sex attraction is a difficult circumstance. There are many instances where such members have heard more emphasis on the doctrine teaching that homosexual behavior is wrong and less emphasis on the doctrine that simply feeling same-sex attraction is only a temptation like many others and that feeling temptation is not a reason to feel guilt, shame, or alienation. There are also instances where family and friends of those with same-sex attraction have unkindly contributed to distress and depression. These things happen despite the church's deliberate work to teach the opposite.

The existence of such events does not prove a link between the church's teaching and suicide

However, the existence of such events does not prove a link between the church's teaching and suicide, especially considering the church's efforts to put in place exactly the factors that have been shown to prevent suicide. If critics are truly worried that church members with same-sex attraction are susceptible to suicide, they should focus on the church's statements of inclusion and compassion, of reaching out with love to all, of open communication and strong family bonds, and of the doctrine that those who suffer temptation need feel no shame or guilt and that those who have violated the standards set by the church are still loved and welcomed. This would help those at risk more, presumably, than does harping on the fictional "hatred" felt by the church toward those with same-sex attraction.

Many critics want most for the church to abandon its stance that homosexual relationships are incompatible with eternal principles of morality. This unsubstantiated and sensationalistic slander--that suicides are the church's fault--will not produce that result.

This is an extremely sensitive topic, and anything said here is not meant to be unkind to the families and friends of those who have been lost to suicide

This is an extremely sensitive topic, and anything said here is not meant to be unkind to the families and friends of those who have been lost to suicide. FairMormon's mission is to defend the church from incorrect accusations, even when that means contradicting those who, quite understandably, wish to comprehend and to change whatever factors led to the suicide of a loved one.

Based on the statistical evidence available, which is probably not as extensive as it will some day be, it may be correct to say that suicide rates are higher for those with same-sex attraction, but the results vary widely among studies.

It is, however, an unsupported leap to say that LDS doctrine, or even religious influence in general, makes suicide more likely for a person with same-sex attraction.

Some factors have been experimentally shown to reduce the likelihood of suicide in teens and young adults, including access to medical and mental health care, conflict resolution skills, lack of access to lethal means, strong ties to family, family acceptance of sexual/gender identity, school and community support, positive role models, and religious or cultural beliefs that discourage suicide. [1]

Of these factors, only the last is explicitly connected to religion, and the LDS religion very definitely counsels against suicide. [2]

Despite the lack of evidence, critics accuse that the church, by teaching the doctrine that homosexual acts are always sinful and that only heterosexual marriage is valid, drives members of the church who have same-sex attraction to depression and suicide. Often, when this accusation is refuted by supporters of the church, they are then accused of not caring about the suffering and lives lost, and of contributing to the climate that drove the person to suicide. Again, FAIR has no wish to cause or increase pain, but it is necessary to point out that the correlation between religious doctrine and suicide, though often assumed by critics, is simply not proven.

In fact, the church clearly provides and teaches that its members should provide several of the above-listed factors which decrease the risk of suicide. The below quotes are only a small sample of the available statements in each category.

LDS church encouragement to seek medical and mental health treatment

  • "The Church finds situations when the trained (mental health professional) is called in for assistance. There is a proper place for these professionally trained specialists. The Church has an organization for this purpose. It is called LDS Social Services. There are also other faithful Latter-day Saints who are in public or private practice and who can be called upon as a bishop feels the need."[3]

LDS church encouragement to develop conflict resolution skills

  • “Each of us is an individual. Each of us is different. There must be respect for those differences...We must work harder to build mutual respect, an attitude of forbearance, with tolerance one for another regardless of the doctrines and philosophies which we may espouse. Concerning these you and I may disagree. But we can do so with respect and civility.” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [1997], 661, 665).

LDS church encouragement to develop and maintain strong family ties

  • 1999: "Keep in mind that this is the same person you have always known: a child of God. Be grateful that this individual is willing to share his or her burden with you...Let it be understood that you value him or her and that this difficult journey will not have to be traveled alone."[4]
  • 2007: "I’d begin by recognizing the courage that brought your son, daughter, sibling, or friend to you. I’d recognize the trust that person has extended. Discussing the issue with someone of trust is a healthy first step to dealing with confusing feelings, and it is imperative that these first steps be met with compassion. Above all, keep your lines of communication open. Open communication between parents and children is a clear expression of love, and pure love, generously expressed, can transform family

ties."[5]

LDS church counsel regarding others' behavior toward members with same-sex attraction

  • 1974: "To “persecute” homosexuals would be wrong, just as it would be wrong for us to persecute anyone. We must try to understand why they have chosen this way of life."[6]
  • 1991 Letter from the First Presidency: "We encourage Church leaders and members to reach out with love and understanding to those struggling with these issues."[7]
  • 1995: "We should reach out lovingly to those who are struggling to resist temptation...[Letters from those with same-sex attraction expressing feelings of isolation and non-acceptance] surely show the need for improvement in our communications with brothers and sisters who are struggling with problems—all types of problems. Each member of Christ’s church has a clear-cut doctrinal responsibility to show forth love and to extend help and understanding."[8]
  • 1998: "We love them as sons and daughters of God...We want to help these people, to strengthen them, to assist them with their problems and to help them with their difficulties."[9]
  • 2004: "Equal to my fears of going to the bishop were my feelings of unworthiness to be at church with people who were living good lives and had not indulged in the sins I had committed. I was sure the first Sunday I returned to church that everyone would see right into my soul and know what I was guilty of and the feelings I was struggling with. Instead, my anxieties were put to rest when members of the ward welcomed me back with loving fellowship."[10]
  • 2007: "You are a son or daughter of God, and our hearts reach out to you in warmth and affection. Notwithstanding your present same-gender attractions, you can be happy during this life, lead a morally clean life, perform meaningful service in the Church, enjoy full fellowship with your fellow Saints, and ultimately receive all the blessings of eternal life." [11]

Notes