Question: What have Mormon leaders taught about the distinction between desires, feelings, or inclinations, and sexual acts?

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Question: What have Mormon leaders taught about the distinction between desires, feelings, or inclinations, and sexual acts?

Those who claim that the Church has long condemned those who had homosexual feelings or inclinations regardless of whether they acted upon such feelings have not accurately reflected the long-standing teaching of the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles on this matter

What have past and present Church leaders taught about the distinction (if any) between sexual temptations, desires, feelings, or inclinations, and sexual acts?

Those who claim that the Church has long condemned those who had homosexual feelings or inclinations regardless of whether they acted upon such feelings have not accurately reflected the long-standing teaching of the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles on this matter. Recent teaching of this doctrine is not a novelty, but merely an emphasis of that which has been long taught.

We are held accountable for things that we can choose. We are not held accountable for things outside of our control

We are held accountable for things that we can choose. We are not held accountable for things outside of our control. This applies equally to sexual actions. Church leaders have always taught that we need to learn to control our sexual actions. Our sexual natures are sacred, and should only be shared between a husband and a wife. But this law is not limited to sexual acts, but includes sexual feelings. The church teaches members to "never do anything outside of marriage to arouse the powerful emotions that must be expressed only in marriage". It is the arousing of sexual feelings that is taught against, not the mere presence of sexual feelings. In all cases, counsel focuses on controllable actions, such as arousing sexual feelings, rather than uncontrollable things like the presence of sexual feelings. This standard applies equally regardless of the genders involved.

D&C

In a revelation given to William E. McLellin, the Lord reveals some of the feelings of McLellin:

Commit not adultery—a temptation with which thou hast been troubled. (D&C 66:10)

Even though he had been troubled with thoughts of adultery (there is no indication whether it was homosexual or heterosexual in nature) the Lord still gave the following praise:

Behold, thus saith the Lord unto my servant William E. McLellin—Blessed are you, inasmuch as you have turned away from your iniquities, and have received my truths, saith the Lord your Redeemer, the Savior of the world, even of as many as believe on my name. (D&C 10:1)

1980

President Spencer W. Kimball, in one of the first extensive treatments of this topic by a President of the Church regarding homosexual acts, was clear about the difference between the temptation and the act. That distinction has persisted in LDS discourse and teaching ever since:

The unholy transgression of homosexuality is either rapidly growing or tolerance is giving it wider publicity. If one has such desires and tendencies, he overcomes them the same as if he had the urge toward petting or fornication or adultery. The Lord condemns and forbids this practice with a vigor equal to his condemnation of adultery and other such sex acts. And the Church will excommunicate as readily any unrepentant addict.

We note that homosexuality is compared to acts such as petting, fornication, or adultery. Those who are excommunicated are those who are unrepentant persist as "addicts": i.e., those who persist in the practice.

Again, contrary to the belief and statement of many people, this sin, like fornication, is overcomable and forgivable, but again, only upon a deep and abiding repentance, which means total abandonment and complete transformation of thought and act. The fact that some governments and some churches and numerous corrupted individuals have tried to reduce such behavior from criminal offense to personal privilege does not change the nature nor the seriousness of the practice. Good men, wise men, God-fearing men everywhere still denounce the practice as being unworthy of sons and daughters of God; and Christ’s church denounces it and condemns it so long as men and women have bodies which Can be defiled.

Again, the "behavior," and "practice" are that which is condemned.

President Kimball continued:

James said: “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. … “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:

“But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

“Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

“Do not err, my beloved brethren.” (James 1:8,12–16.)....

Again, one is tempted but it requires temptation and a response to it out of our own lust to "bring...forth sin."

“God made me that way,” some say, as they rationalize and excuse themselves for their perversions. “I can’t help it,” they add. This is blasphemy. Is man not made in the image of God, and does he think God to be “that way”? Man is responsible for his own sins. It is possible that he may rationalize and excuse himself until the groove is so deep he cannot get out without great difficulty, but this he can do. Temptations come to all people. The difference between the reprobate and the worthy person is generally that one yielded and the other resisted. It is true that one’s background may make the decision and accomplishment easier or more difficult, but if one is mentally alert, he can still control his future. That is the gospel message—personal responsibility.

And now, my dear brothers and sisters, I have spoken frankly and boldly against the sins of the day. Even though I dislike such a subject, I believe it necessary to warn the youth against the onslaught of the arch tempter who, with his army of emissaries and all the tools at his command, would destroy all the youth of Zion, largely through deception, misrepresentation, and lies.

“Be wise in the days of your probation,” said Mormon, “strip yourselves of all uncleanness; ask not, that ye may consume it on your lusts, but ask with a firmness unshaken, that ye will yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God” (Moron 9:28).[1]

President Kimball emphasizes that some may be more vulnerable or susceptible to this temptation, but emphasizes that one is only unworthy (or sinful) if he yields to temptation.

President Kimball had high hopes that people could overcome the practice of homosexuality, but warned that the feelings would remain and should be constantly kept in check. He said:

In a few months, some have totally mastered themselves... We realize that the cure is no more permanent than the individual makes it so and is like the cure for alcoholism subject to continued vigilance.

1987

President Gordon B. Hinckley:

Prophets of God have repeatedly taught through the ages that practices of homosexual relations, fornication, and adultery are grievous sins..... Mankind has been given agency to choose between right and wrong....Mental control must be stronger than physical appetites or desires of the flesh. As thoughts are brought into complete harmony with revealed truth, actions will then become appropriate.[2]

1988

In 1988, Elder Dalin H. Oaks said:

Most of us are born with [or develop] thorns in the flesh, some more visible, some more serious than others. We all seem to have susceptibilities to one disorder or another, but whatever our susceptibilities, we have the will and the power to control our thoughts and our actions. This must be so. God has said that he holds us accountable for what we do and what we think, so our thoughts and actions must be controllable by our agency. Once we have reached the age or condition of accountability, the claim ‘I was born that way’ does not excuse actions or thoughts that fail to conform to the commandments of God. We need to learn how to live so that a weakness that is mortal will not prevent us from achieving the goal that is eternal.

God has promised that he will consecrate our afflictions for our gain (see 2 Nephi 2:2). The efforts we expend in overcoming any inherited [or developed] weakness build a spiritual strength that will serve us throughout eternity. Thus, when Paul prayed thrice that his ‘thorn in the flesh’ would depart from him, the Lord replied, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Obedient, Paul concluded:

“ ‘Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

“ ‘Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong’ (2 Cor. 12:9–10).

Whatever our susceptibilities or tendencies [feelings], they cannot subject us to eternal consequences unless we exercise our free agency to do or think the things forbidden by the commandments of God. For example, a susceptibility to alcoholism impairs its victim’s freedom to partake without addiction, but his free agency allows him to abstain and thus escape the physical debilitation of alcohol and the spiritual deterioration of addiction.

… Beware the argument that because a person has strong drives toward a particular act, he has no power of choice and therefore no responsibility for his actions. This contention runs counter to the most fundamental premises of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Satan would like us to believe that we are not responsible in this life. That is the result he tried to achieve by his contest in the pre-existence. A person who insists that he is not responsible for the exercise of his free agency because he was ‘born that way’ is trying to ignore the outcome of the War in Heaven. We are responsible, and if we argue otherwise, our efforts become part of the propaganda effort of the Adversary.

Individual responsibility is a law of life. It applies in the law of man and the law of God. Society holds people responsible to control their impulses so we can live in a civilized society. God holds his children responsible to control their impulses in order that they can keep his commandments and realize their eternal destiny. The law does not excuse the short-tempered man who surrenders to his impulse to pull a trigger on his tormentor, or the greedy man who surrenders to his impulse to steal, or the pedophile who surrenders to his impulse to satisfy his sexual urges with children. …

There is much we do not know about the extent of freedom we have in view of the various thorns in the flesh that afflict us in mortality. But this much we do know; we all have our free agency and God holds us accountable for the way we use it in thought and deed. That is fundamental.”[3]

1991

The First Presidency wrote in 1991:

There is a distinction between immoral thoughts and feelings and participating in either immoral heterosexual or any homosexual behavior.”[4]

1994

Elder Richard G. Scott:

Some bad thoughts come by themselves. Others come because we invite them by what we look at and listen to…. The mind can think of only one thing at a time. Use that fact to crowd out ugly thoughts. Above all, don’t feed thoughts by reading or watching things that are wrong. If you don’t control your thoughts, Satan will keep tempting you until you eventually act them out (emphasis added).[5]

1995

In 1995, Elder Oaks stated:

Applying the First Presidency’s distinction to the question of same-sex relationships, we should distinguish between (1) homosexual (or lesbian) “thoughts and feelings” (which should be resisted and redirected), and (2) “homosexual behavior” (which is a serious sin)....

Persons cannot continue to engage in serious sin and remain members of the Church. And discipline can be given for encouraging sin by others. There is no Church discipline for improper thoughts or feelings (though there is encouragement to improve them), but there are consequences for behavior....

[W]e should always distinguish between sinful acts and inappropriate feelings or potentially dangerous susceptibilities. We should reach out lovingly to those who are struggling to resist temptation. The First Presidency did this in their 14 November 1991 letter. After reaffirming the sinful nature of “fornication, adultery, and homosexual and lesbian behavior,” the Presidency added: “Individuals and their families desiring help with these matters should seek counsel from their bishop, branch president, stake or district president. We encourage Church leaders and members to reach out with love and understanding to those struggling with these issues. Many will respond to Christlike love and inspired counsel as they receive an invitation to come back and apply the atoning and healing power of the Savior.[6]

Gordon B. Hinckley:

Our hearts reach out to those who struggle with feelings of affinity for the same gender. We remember you before the Lord, we sympathize with you, we regard you as our brothers and our sisters. However, we cannot condone immoral practices on your part any more than we can condone immoral practices on the part of others….[7]

2000

In 2000, President Boyd K. Packer taught:

That may be a struggle from which you will not be free in this life. If you do not act on temptations, you need feel no guilt. They may be extremely difficult to resist. But that is better than to yield and bring disappointment and unhappiness to you and those who love you.[8]

2003

In 2003, President Boyd K. Packer taught:

In the Church, one is not condemned for tendencies or temptations. One is held accountable for transgression. (See D&C 101:78; A+of+F 1:2.) If you do not act on unworthy persuasions, you will neither be condemned nor be subject to Church discipline.[9]

2006

In 2006, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said:

The distinction between feelings or inclinations on the one hand, and behavior on the other hand, is very clear. It’s no sin to have inclinations that if yielded to would produce behavior that would be a transgression. The sin is in yielding to temptation. Temptation is not unique. Even the Savior was tempted.

The New Testament affirms that God has given us commandments that are difficult to keep. It is in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”[10]

2007

In October 2007, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland published an article in the Ensign, which read in part:

A pleasant young man in his early 20s sat across from me. He had an engaging smile, although he didn’t smile often during our talk. What drew me in was the pain in his eyes.

“I don’t know if I should remain a member of the Church,” he said. “I don’t think I’m worthy.”

“Why wouldn’t you be worthy?” I asked.

“I’m gay.”

I suppose he thought I would be startled. I wasn’t. “And … ?” I inquired.

A flicker of relief crossed his face as he sensed my continued interest. “I’m not attracted to women. I’m attracted to men. I’ve tried to ignore these feelings or change them, but …”

He sighed. “Why am I this way? The feelings are very real.”

I paused, then said, “I need a little more information before advising you. You see, same-gender attraction is not a sin, but acting on those feelings is—just as it would be with heterosexual feelings. Do you violate the law of chastity?”

He shook his head. “No, I don’t.”

This time I was relieved. “Thank you for wanting to deal with this,” I said. “It takes courage to talk about it, and I honor you for keeping yourself clean.

“As for why you feel as you do, I can’t answer that question. A number of factors may be involved, and they can be as different as people are different. Some things, including the cause of your feelings, we may never know in this life. But knowing why you feel as you do isn’t as important as knowing you have not transgressed. If your life is in harmony with the commandments, then you are worthy to serve in the Church, enjoy full fellowship with the members, attend the temple, and receive all the blessings of the Savior’s Atonement.”

He sat up a little straighter. I continued, “You serve yourself poorly when you identify yourself primarily by your sexual feelings. That isn’t your only characteristic, so don’t give it disproportionate attention. You are first and foremost a son of God, and He loves you.

“What’s more, I love you. My Brethren among the General Authorities love you. I’m reminded of a comment President Boyd K. Packer made in speaking to those with same-gender attraction. ‘We do not reject you,’ he said. ‘… We cannot reject you, for you are the sons and daughters of God. We will not reject you, because we love you.’ ”

We talked for another 30 minutes or so. Knowing I could not be a personal counselor to him, I directed him to his local priesthood leaders. Then we parted. I thought I detected a look of hope in his eyes that had not been there before. Although he yet faced challenges to work through—or simply endure—I had a feeling he would handle them well.[11]

He went on to emphasize: "[L]et me make it clear that attractions alone, troublesome as they may be, do not make one unworthy....If you do not act on temptations, you have not transgressed."

In a Church booklet published in 2007, the Church taught:

Many people with same-gender attraction respect the sacredness of their bodies and the standards God has set—that sexuality be expressed “only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102). The lives of these individuals are pleasing to our Father in Heaven. Some, however, cross this boundary and indulge in immoral conduct. The desire for physical gratification does not authorize immorality by anyone....

An understanding of eternal truths is a powerful motivation for righteous behavior. You are best served by concentrating on the things you can presently understand and control, not wasting energy or enlarging frustration by worrying about that which God has not yet fully revealed. Focus on living the simple truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Same-gender inclinations may be very powerful, but through faith in the Atonement you can receive the power to resist all improper conduct, keeping your life free from sin (italics added).[12]

2009

D. Todd Christopherson:

All of us experience temptations. So did the Savior, but He “gave no heed unto them” (DC 20:22). Similarly, we do not have to yield simply because a temptation surfaces. We may want to, but we don’t have to. An incredulous female friend asked a young adult woman, committed to living the law of chastity, how it was possible that she had never “slept with anybody.” “Don’t you want to?” the friend asked. The young woman thought: “The question intrigued me, because it was so utterly beside the point. … Mere wanting is hardly a proper guide for moral conduct.”

In some cases, temptation may have the added force of potential or actual addiction. I am grateful that for an increasing number of people the Church can provide therapeutic help of various kinds to aid them in avoiding or coping with addictions. Even so, while therapy can support a person’s will, it cannot substitute for it. Always and ever, there must be an exercise of discipline—moral discipline founded on faith in God the Father and the Son and what They can achieve with us through the atoning grace of Jesus Christ. In Peter’s words, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations” (2 Peter 2:9).[13]

Bruce C. Hafen:

You may not have consciously chosen to have same-gender attraction, but you are faithfully choosing to deal with it. Sometimes that attraction may make you feel sinful, even though the attraction alone is not a sin if you do not act on it. Sometimes you may feel frustration or anger or simply a deep sadness about yourself. But as hard as same-gender attraction is, your feeling that attraction does not mean that your nature is flawed. Whenever the adversary tries to convince you that you are hopelessly “that way,” so that acting out your feelings is inevitable, he is lying. He is the father of lies....

It’s true that the law of chastity forbids all sexual relations outside the bonds of a married heterosexual relationship. And while same-gender attraction is not a sin, you need to resist cultivating immoral, lustful thoughts toward those of either gender. It’s no sin if a bird lands in your tree, just don’t let him build a nest there....

...if you feel an attraction you didn’t seek and haven’t acted on, you have nothing to repent of.[14]

2010

On 12 October 2010, Michael Otterson (head of Church Public Affairs) noted:

None of us is limited by our feelings or inclinations. Ultimately, we are free to act for ourselves.

The Church recognizes that those of its members who are attracted to others of the same sex experience deep emotional, social and physical feelings. The Church distinguishes between feelings or inclinations on the one hand and behavior on the other. It’s not a sin to have feelings, only in yielding to temptation.

There is no question that this is difficult, but Church leaders and members are available to help lift, support and encourage fellow members who wish to follow Church doctrine. Their struggle is our struggle.[15]

The 2010 version of the Church's Handbook of Instructions notes:

Homosexual behavior violates the commandments of God, is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality, and deprives people of the blessings that can be found in family life and in the saving ordinances of the gospel. Those who persist in such behavior or who influence others to do so are subject to Church discipline. Homosexual behavior can be forgiven through sincere repentance.

If members engage in homosexual behavior, Church leaders should help them have a clear understanding of faith in Jesus Christ, the process of repentance, and the purpose of life on earth.

While opposing homosexual behavior, the Church reaches out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender.

If members feel same-gender attraction but do not engage in any homosexual behavior, leaders should support and encourage them in their resolve to live the law of chastity and to control unrighteous thoughts. These members may receive Church callings. If they are worthy and qualified in every other way, they may also hold temple recommends and receive temple ordinances.[16]

What does science have to say about this?

According to the American Psychological Association: "Sexual orientation is different from sexual behavior because it refers to feelings and self-concept. Individuals may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviors."

Having same-sex attractions, participating in same-sex relationships, and identifying as gay or lesbian are three separate things. A study by the Social Organization of Sexuality found that 60% of men and 68% of women who were attracted to the same gender have never engaged in homosexual behavior. This number differs from those who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. For them, only 13% of men and 4% of women have never engaged in homosexual behavior.[17] This lead the researchers to conclude that sexual identity (i.e., how people label and conceive of themselves) was a stronger indicator of sexual behavior than sexual orientation (i.e., the feelings or inclinations which people have).

Not only is there significant differences between a person's sexual orientation and behavior, but it changes over time. The study indicated that of the 4.9% of men and 4.1% of women who have ever had a homosexual experience since the age of 18, only 2.7% of men and 1.3% of women had one in the last year. Some people change their sexual behavior based on religious beliefs. Others reported that they were no longer attracted to the same sex. The American Psychiatric Association has stated "Some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person’s lifetime."[18] The way this develops varies from person to person. A report from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health states that, "For some people, sexual orientation is continuous and fixed throughout their lives. For others, sexual orientation may be fluid and change over time."

The Religions Dimension

Many people have testified that through the atonement of Christ, they no longer are attracted to people of the same gender. Others have also had faith in Christ, but still have same-sex attractions. Elder Holland taught: "Through the exercise of faith, individual effort, and reliance upon the power of the Atonement, some may overcome same-gender attraction in mortality and marry. Others, however, may never be free of same-gender attraction in this life."[19]


Notes

  1. Spencer W. Kimball, "President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality," New Era (October 1980): 39.
  2. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Reverence and Morality," General Conference (April 1987).
  3. “Free Agency and Freedom,” Brigham Young University 1987–88 Devotional and Fireside Speeches (Provo: BYU Publications, 1988), pp. 46–47; an edited version is available in Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., The Book of Mormon: Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1989), 13-15.
  4. First Presidency, letter, 14 November 1991.
  5. Richard G. Scott, "Making the Right Choices," General Conference (October 1994).
  6. Dallin H. Oaks, "Same-Gender Attraction," Ensign (October 1995), 9.
  7. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Stand Strong Against the Wiles of the World," General Conference (Women's Meeting, Sept 1995).
  8. Boyd K. Packer, "Ye Are The Temple of God," General Conference (November 2000).
  9. Boyd K. Packer, "The Standard of Truth Has Been Erected," General Conference (October 2003).
  10. Dallin H. Oaks and Lance B. Wickman, "Same Gender Attraction," interview with Church Public Affairs (2006). off-site
  11. Jeffrey R. Holland, "Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction," Ensign (October 2007), 42-45.
  12. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, God Loveth His Children (Intellectual Reserve, 2007).
  13. G. Todd Christopherson, "Moral Discipline," General Conference (October 2009).
  14. Bruce C. Hafen, "Elder Bruce C. Hafen Speaks on Same-Sex Attraction," report of address given to Evergreen International annual conference, 19 September 2009.
  15. Michael Otterson, "Church Responds to HRC Petition," (12 October 2010).
  16. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Handbook 2: Administering the Church—2010 (Intellectual Reserve, 2010). Selected Church Policies and Guidelines 21.4.6
  17. Laumann, Edward O. , The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States 299
  18. American Psychiatric Association (May 2000). "Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues". Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists.
  19. "Helping Those Who Struggle," 42-45.