Sunday, April 8, 2012

Choose the Right (2 Nephi 2:27)

I haven't blogged in a while. This semester has been absolutely consuming me, but at last it is finally ending soon. Meanwhile, the last few days of my life have been far too significant to not blog about. Sometimes Satan pulls out all the stops and tries to pummel you with full force. But you always have a choice.

As many of you know, BYU held a panel discussion this last week, hosted by the Sociology department and the USGA (Understanding Same Gender Attraction) organization--a campus club devoted to raising awareness of this issue. I am not a member of this organization; while I wish them the best in their efforts and applaud some of the work they are doing to build bridges of understanding, I don't always agree with the predominate approach to the subject held by many USGA members. However, I did attend the panel discussion. A lot of it was very good and served its purpose of bridging gaps in understanding. However, I was disappointed that they seemed to present 2 possible outcomes for an LDS SSA life: They had one panelist who was married, and they went to great lengths to underscore the fact that he is an extreme, almost mythical exception to the rule. Two of the other panelists expressed during the discussion that while they live the honor code fully at BYU, they don't likely envision themselves post-BYU living their lives without a same-sex partner. One of them received rather loud applause upon this admission. I found that slightly disconcerting. I have love and respect for those panelists, and especially their bravery. I hope they have very happy and fulfilling lives. However, I am perturbed that the room erupted in applause when it was made known that they fully intended to break the commandments later. To paraphrase loosely what he said from my notes, "I just can't imagine my life without a man, and I want to raise my family and children, with my husband, in a Church setting as best I can. To do otherwise would deny who I am and I could never do that."

I was made to wonder: if I struggled with a strong temptation for greed and deep passion for material goods, do you think I would receive loud applause if I stood in a forum setting at BYU and announced that "I just can't imagine my life paying tithing. I'm going to faithfully attend Church as a non-tithe payer, because to do otherwise would deny who I am and I could never do that." I somehow don't think I'd be met with much applause. Now, don't get me wrong. There are those among us who attend faithfully every week and don't pay their tithing. I don't judge them for it and I love them and hope they always feel welcome attending their meetings. But I ultimately know that no matter how happy the world makes them, it will always be better for them to pay their tithing. They will be blessed for it and find lasting joy. It may take a long time to find it, too! We are not always instantly blessed for our obedience. In fact, obedience can often be painful and difficult. But that's sometimes the point.

Overall, I felt like the panel seemed to present a rather dangerously incomplete view of the LDS population that experiences same-sex attraction. They boiled it down to a rare super-minority that get married, and the alternative view to try remaining active while in a same-sex relationship. I do actually hope that BYU continues to encourage dialogue on this subject in the LDS community, but I hope additional views can be represented. Honestly, through NorthStar I've met LOTS of happily married LDS SSA guys. They are not such a rare minority as the panel seemed to suggest. But even for those who don't get married, it saddens me that the only real alternative suggested was to accept a same sex partner.

Even more sad, this weekend a few people I've connected with, in part inspired by the panel discussion, chose to act on the recommendation and choose a homosexual lifestyle, leaving their covenants behind for a moment of pleasure. I knew when I started connecting with other SSA guys and helping/being helped by them, that sooner or later someone I cared for deeply would probably make that choice. Now it has happened, and I must say it has actually been pretty hard emotionally. Harder than I anticipated. They say they are so happy now that they've made that choice. You know what? I'll bet they are. They expressed needs for companionship that have been filled. That is a very basic human need, so of course filling it would bring happiness. But just because God said that "men are that they might have joy," (2 Nephi 2:25), He never said that everything that makes us feel happy is the correct choice. I also recognize that this doesn't mean they are "lost." The wonderful thing about agency is that even after making a wrong choice, it is still in our power to repent and choose the right in the future.

So, I was thrown off emotionally and spiritually for a bit this weekend (other life stresses weighed upon me at the same time I don't have time to explain here). And I could hear so clearly the voice of the Adversary pulling at me with a very familiar lie: that giving in is inevitable and is the only way to be happy. I have felt him tell me that every day for a long time now. Satan loves to make us think we don't really have a choice, and that sooner or later we are gonna cave in and act on his temptations. He wants us to think that we have no agency in the matter. And sometimes his arguments can be rather convincing too! I must admit that I am so grateful for great friends who helped me and talked me through some depression and intense temptations this weekend. I did feel really discouraged for a while, and must admit I considered how easily I could give in. But God reminded me through my friends and through the Spirit that I can choose! But it is important to understand agency completely to recognize the powers to choose that we HAVE, versus a few things which really ARE beyond our control.

Agency is really important. As latter-day saints, we understand that. In fact, we know we fought a war over it. We highly value the fact that we as humans get to make CHOICES. I think our admirable love for agency can sometimes be the root of some less desirable side effects. For example, there are still those among us who constantly perpetuate the idea that same-sex attraction is something chosen. I sure didn't choose this! It's fascinating to me to think about the idea of choice itself. I very clearly and definitely make many choices every day. But I also know that if the doctor hammers the spot on the knee just right, the leg will kick without my choosing. I cannot always make a choice whether or not something will cause me to be aroused, though I can choose to try avoiding things or situations that will. There are LOTS of things I didn't choose besides just my patterns of attraction--my gender, my face, my nationality, my race. On the other hand, there are many things we CAN choose. As Father Lehi taught anciently:

"Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself." (2 Nephi 2:27)

We may not choose our circumstances, but it has been given to us that which is expedient: the ability to choose our response to those circumstances. As appealing as it may be for a moment, it will never be better to choose the wrong, regardless of how alluring and constant the temptation. It is not inevitable that you will make the wrong choice. You can choose.

I've recently grown a deep love for the hymn "Choose the Right" (#239) and its simple but profound message.I especially found the second verse resonating with me this weekend. It says:

Choose the right! Let no spirit of digression
Overcome you in the evil hour.
There's the right and the wrong to ev'ry question;
Be safe through inspiration's pow'r.

I found myself for a while "in the evil hour" this weekend. A strong spirit of digression pulled at me and even suggested specific ways I could abandon my covenants this very weekend. But those digressive spirits cannot overcome you if you do not let them. And, with the help of God and some friends, I CHOSE THE RIGHT today. You can too! It was also pointed out to me tonight how one may substitute the word "Christ" for "right" in the hymn:

Choose the Christ, Choose the Christ
Let Wisdom mark the way before.
In His light, Choose the Christ
And God will bless you ever more. 

On this glorious Easter evening, it is my prayer that you and I will both resolve this night and forever to Choose the Christ--even Him who bled and died that you might be empowered to come back to Him and repent and Choose Him, even if in your past you sometimes have chosen poorly. He died so that you could make those mistakes you did, and now get back on your feet and choose HIM instead, from this moment on.

I'll leave you with this beautiful arrangement of that lovely hymn, as sung by a BYU priesthood choir in General Conference, April 2010:

My best,



  1. Thank you for this post and the truths you have shared.


  2. Thank you for this post.

    I also ready up on the notes on the panel. I was very sad to hear about the people who were planning on not living the law of Chastity after they left BYU.

    As for the married man, I would clarify that his 'approach' to marriage was a unique case, not the fact that he was married. I can see how that wasn't stated very clearly and could be seen as saying that married same gender attracted people to the opposite gender is a rare thing. Although, I wasn't at the panel. This was just something I heard from the person themselves.

    That aside, I think it was a good thing to get something like this out in the open. I just wish some single people advocating following the church's teachings were on the panel. I think it was a bit skewed. It was interesting they had a bisexual man there to provide an even different perspective.

    1. I too am disturbed lately at the way we are speaking about all this. We can say we have trouble, we can tell all the sad and difficult parts of the journey, but at least, in a Mormon university, to be applauded for not being able to live the Gospel seems rather weird.

  3. You are wonderful inspiration to me!

  4. Thanks to Andrew for making the point I want to make--through over 2 years of experience speaking to sociology classes in situations that this panel was patterned after, I know some of the pitfalls of telling my story. One unfortunate side effect of early presentations is that people left their class, approached their gay friends, and asked them why they weren't marrying women like I did. In the first place, that is a decision to be made with the Lord, not because some dude talks to a class full of aspiring sociologists. Secondly, that places an undue burden on someone who may not be in the right place to take that advice how it was intended, and who already may have dating troubles (if you want to be honest, do you try to win dates as a gay man or spring it on them a few dates in?).

    It is not because so-called mixed-orientation marriages are not a viable option that I emphasize my atypical situation, but because my approach is unique, and because for an audience of straight people, that is more of what I felt they needed to hear in order to curb behavior that may cause more harm than good.

    As for my friend whose stated plans currently involve a husband, I think that was an unfortunate turn for a BYU panel, but he was being completely honest about his state of mind, and I applaud that. The panel was not meant as an outreach project for SSA students, it was meant to build understanding in a community that doesn't know how to react when they realize someone is gay. These people will be going out into the workforce, representing BYU and the church, and they have questions about how to navigate unknown waters.

    1. Brandon: I'm really glad to hear your level-headed feedback here, as a member of the panel. I have a lot of respect for you and realize that your approach to marriage itself may not be universal. I think I simply wish the thought that marriage as an option itself is not so rare. This was reinforced to me Friday afternoon when another non-SSA friend of mine who attended the panel seemed to think that marriage is basically never an option except in "miracle cases" like yours, and he cited USGA meetings he's attended as proof of it.

      Thanks for all the effort you put into trying to build bridges of understanding. I hope people can see more examples like yours publicly and understand that YOU are the one who has in fact made the choice to be true to who you really are--a son of God and a covenant follower of the gospel.

      My best to you, your wife, and your daughter,


  5. Haha, I'm in that video, too.

    1. I actually noticed that and almost mentioned it! :P

      Such a good arrangement. :)

      By the way, I'm a major BYU Singers fan.

  6. Wow. The response to this post has been a little overwhelming! I've gotten a flood of emails and support and my site stats have gone absolutely berserk! Thanks for all the support and feedback and sharing that has been going on with this.

    I do want to make it clear that my largest disappointment with the panel was not so much the panel itself, as has been the aftermath of it, as people have interpreted it to be something it wasn't. This was meant to build bridges. In those regards it was a marvelous success! It was NOT intended to be the definitive, comprehensive scope and view into the world of SSA Mormons. Unfortunately, many have taken it that way, which is what has sent such an incomplete message in my opinion.

    And may I say that even those on the panel with whom I disagree deserve some credit for their willingness to be so honest. I definitely wish them no ill will at all and have refused to publish any comments that are threatening or mean-spirited against those members of the panel.

  7. It's interesting to me how much of this I agree with in the underlying principles (e.g. not everything that makes you feel happy or consoled is necessarily ethical or "correct") but very much disagree with the framework around or application of them. Yet the voice is familiar, as it reminds me of my own a decade ago, before I was led away carefully. ;-) Yes, I know soul-destroying deception is no laughing matter, so pardon my attempt to be light-hearted about what is likely a glaring conflict in our beliefs about which we'll have to agree to disagree.

    As for mixed-sex marriage for gay/SSA folks, it was difficult for me to come to terms with just how rarely it exists in any form I would want for myself, let alone lasting without infidelity. But from what I can see it's just a reality, at least up to this point, that most of them end, and often not before children are involved. But they CAN be successful and happy, some do last, and I believe it's being done healthily by more today than before, with more open communication, and they should be allowed to pioneer healthy marriages and choose what they want and believe as long as it's done honestly and openly. I still raise huge caution flags for those planning to pursue it, but if that's what someone wants or believes, they should at least be supported in doing it the healthiest way possible.

    1. I want to thank you for your comment. I have no qualms publishing alternative viewpoints when people are civil, as you have been. Unfortunately, most people who try to comment with a conflicting viewpoint do so by telling me to go to hell, or else they often find it funny to throw really crude sexually charged language at me.

      Thanks for your insights and warnings. I certainly agree that when marriage is pursued, it must be done so carefully. I think that should hopefully be true for ALL people wanting to get married though, whether or not they experience same sex attraction! :) There can be just as much an infidelity risk of an opposite-gender attracted man with other women if he doesn't watch himself.

      Thanks again.

      My best,


    2. To original Mohomie, I think we really have no idea what percentage of mixed sex gay/SSA marriages end unhappily. Sure some of them do. But I believe and know from personal experience that there are untold numbers of people out there who marry, in spite of SGA feelings. They do not advertise their attractions or challenges. They quietly live their lives, working to stay true to their spouses and their testimonies. Many of them develop attractions to their spouses and have children. What we hear about the most are the ones who decide to end their marriages and go public about it. Just the fact that there are so many of those mixed sex SSA marriages that fail must give you mathematical pause. Many of those marriages went on for years with no one publicly knowing their situation. How can we say therefore, again mathematically, that we know how many marriages there are where the spouses continue to work out their mixed sex SSA marriages in complete obscurity, like me and mine. Or, how can we say which number is greater? We cannot know this ratio. There is no survey to reach those who have no interest in being surveyed and may not reply anyway.

    3. Anonymous, I agree the numbers may be skewed, and I used to point out this probability a lot. I have many friends who are quietly living their lives and wouldn't be noticed by the public. I don't envy many of their situations, but we all choose our challenges and determine what we're willing to deal with. I certainly don't wish doom on their marriages out of some misguided notion that it would justify my choice thus far not to pursue marriage with a woman. I'm speaking from extensive personal connections and conversations, which I stated in a comment Obadiah has thus far yet to publish despite it being respectful and on-topic.

      There may be more who are quietly going about their lives that I don't know about, isolated, not connected with others who are experiencing similarly. I may have been in contact with people in "mixed-orientation marriages" through networks of support groups, where people gravitate precisely because they feel a need for strength and understanding and are therefore possibly less content than others, thus being a skewed sample.

      But it's hard to trust silent, anonymous hypotheticals when I personally know dozens of people who have, in the past, quietly contacted staunch proponents of mixed-orientation marriage, thanking them for defending the silent ones like them, only to later admit that they did so in the brief highs they experienced between long periods of struggle which goes beyond that which most of my hetero friends admit to in their marriages. Of course, these eventually ended up in the support groups I was in or connected with individuals I met in such groups, so again, maybe I'm only talking to the small percentage of formerly "happily quiet" people who later admitted their struggle. If that's true, then it's necessary to conclude, based on percentages, that the e-mails must be pouring in to proponents of mixed-orientation marriage. Maybe they are.

      But my personal experience tells me mixed-sex marriage involving one SSA/gay spouse is challenging enough that a lot of people struggle beyond most of my friends, even though a few really do feel happy and fulfilled in their marriages and aren't secretly tormented, even after twenty years.

      Where I think we can agree is that existing success rates shouldn't be used as absolute prohibition of any attempts for such marriage. Interethnic marriages have, at times, been fraught with problems other marriages didn't have (still a different thing, but using success rates as an example), but people should be free to attempt it as healthily as possible.

    4. Original Mohomie,

      I have so far received a total of 3 comments from you, and have published all 3. If you submitted another that you aren't seeing, perhaps it has been eaten by the internet??? Maybe also if you refresh your browser it will show up? There is the first one you sent, the one immediately above these words, and the third which is actually lower on the page in response to a comment from another visitor named Drew. I haven't intentionally not published any of your comments and apologize if something got lost in cyber-land. =/

      If you still don't see it showing up, feel free to resubmit those thoughts. As I said before, I've appreciated your input, even the parts I don't agree with. I think it's important that people consider all angles on this subject. After all, that was my one qualm with the panel: I felt like views like my own as a single, unmarried guy without intent to ever have a homosexual relationship were not represented on the panel. I'd be rather hypocritical to not publish a post with a view differing from my own, given that it remains civil as all your comments thus far have been. :)

      My best,


    5. I figured it failed the intolerably long-winded test. ;-) I've had tech glitches lately, so I'll blame those or my faulty memory. Here's a revised version:

      Marriage must be entered into carefully and respectfully in all cases, yes. But mixed-sex marriage for a gay/SSA man or woman has, as I see it, the normal challenges of every other marriage plus a pretty fundamental and inherent challenging dynamic on top of that.

      Put a straight man in a marriage with his gay friend he cares for but for whom he’s not wired to feel in the same way he felt for his ex-girlfriend, and feelings of fulfillment of certain needs or desires would probably be a bit patently different from those of a straight man who has just become a bit bored in the bedroom with his wife or is experiencing typical relationship difficulties. That wouldn't justify violating his marriage covenant, but I suspect it’d require greater than average resistance to being worn down. I think it’s fair to warn people of the challenge, but I also think it’s unfair to call them dishonest or duped for choosing to pursue it anyway.

      I haven’t been married, and I don’t know of any heterosexual people who married members of the same sex and can share what it’s like. And contrary to my experience and understanding, some claim the above comparison is invalid because people aren’t “gay” but only experience temptations which mask their heterosexuality. So I can only evaluate this all in light of my beliefs and experiences and the testimonials of others. Thankfully, stigma and abstraction is being replaced with lived experience through the openness of many who have been or are there.

      I personally know dozens of SSA/gay men who have been or are currently married to women, and they seem to have struggled, despite good times, more than hetero guys I know with wholeness and fulfillment within their marriage. For me, the 'can be's and 'should's have been illustrated and challenged by experience and observation. Fortunately, some of them find ways to resolve their issues and find greater fulfillment and contentment in their marriages, and their voices are as valid as anyone’s. Others, faithful though they remain, are visibly stressed by their situation in ways I don’t perceive in most of my ‘straight’ friends and wouldn’t wish on someone I care about. And I’m no longer willing to assume they have the problem--that they are somehow less dedicated, more selfish, or less righteous than those who have made it work--rather than the nature of the relationship being inherently fraught with unnecessary stress in many cases. Still, I'm only looking in from the outside of the marriages, sometimes seeing challenges or lifestyles I don’t want or which would feel inauthentic for me, but someone else might choose them.

      Even if thousands say they thought they could handle mixed-orientation marriage but had vastly underestimated the challenges, that does not mean all mixed-orientation marriages will have the same trajectory, especially when factors aren’t the same. I believe the playing field changes as more mixed-orientation couples openly communicate about it before marriage, read and listen to experiences of others, and find networks of supportive fellows. I still think a lot of people jump in too eagerly, expecting to be the exception, but hey, a few are, right?

      I try to point prospective couples to those who have attempted it and try to help them avoid, if possible, the pitfalls others have found. I support friends in pursuing what they believe and want if emotionally genuine, non-selfish, informed, and wise about both the usual challenges of marriage and the likely built-in challenges of mixed-orientation marriage. Heck, I've always thought I could do it if I truly believed it was necessary and found a woman I genuinely, personally wanted to be with. Goodness knows even without the LDS angle, I'd like to make babies together with my spouse, and technology just doesn't allow it for two men yet. :-)

  8. Some very good thoughts here. It's SO refreshing to hear this perspective after all the hullabaloo and undeserved gushing praise that dangerous panel (and subsequent YouTube video) has been getting. I am very afraid of what kind of ramifications this video will have, and, according to your friends, is already having. If such a panel were to take place at BYU, the overall takeaway message SHOULD have been one of hope and change through the Atonement, not accepting and submitting to a lifestyle choice contrary to the Gospel! That is actually false doctrine, being taught and encouraged right here at BYU.

    Also, regarding choice, you make some very good points regarding what we choose and do not choose, but homosexual thoughts and feelings are certainly not innate or inborn. So what does that leave? Environmental issues, indicating it's in some way chosen. It certainly doesn't feel like a choice, but that's because it's often subconscious (though some make a very conscious decision to indulge the feelings and live the lifestyle), and due to unexpected circumstances, or things beyond our control. But make no mistake--this is something that CAN and should (and MUST) be overcome. I have seen it happen, and it is possible. Good luck to you.

  9. P.S. One reason I was so furious about this panel is because the represented viewpoints were incredibly biased. There was no one sharing their success story of leaving that life behind and overcoming the wrong thoughts and feelings, and even marrying and raising a family. I understand that goes against the popular perspective on this issue, but it is a very real thing for many many people, and that really should have been included in this panel, if it had to take place at all. Those in charge were actually approached to include someone like that, and they refused, which makes you really wonder what their intention for this event was. Wouldn't THAT added perspective have made this such a very interesting and valuable discussion?

    1. Drew, was a reason given for not including such a person on the panel? I agree that if another BYU student came forward who was respectful of the views of others and non-combative and felt they had eradicated their same-sex attractions, they should have been welcome to join the panel to really round out the discussion. Frankly, I'd like to talk with someone like that personally because I've never met such a person in my dozens and dozens of private conversations with people who have been through therapy and programs, at least none who didn't collect royalties or fees attached to the claim or otherwise had their livelihood staked in it. And among those, I've only met two that I can think of, though I admit I haven't been able to sit down with them to really converse. Now, if you're talking about those who "overcame" same-sex attraction enough to marry a woman and live happily...there already was one, so I'm assuming you mean to refer to complete eradication?

  10. Such an insightful post. And what a treat to hear from one of the panelists in the comments section.

    I especially loved this because it points out the difference between the fact that there is some sin that really can be fulfilling and feel like happiness, yet not bring us eternal happiness, if that makes any sense: "...just because God said that "men are that they might have joy," (2 Nephi 2:25), He never said that everything that makes us feel happy is the correct choice. "

    Another favorite is the following because it points out that our most defining identity is our spiritual one: "YOU are the one who has in fact made the choice to be true to who you really are--a son of God and a covenant follower of the gospel."

    As for Brandon's situation, I graduated from BYU 15+ years ago, and the last I was aware, therapy was pointing *to* SSA individuals to marry in the temple as part of "curing" or "overcoming" their actual SSA. I believe that this particular reasoning for marrying can do much more harm than good, which is why I'm grateful that the practice has been abandoned, and why encouraging an SSA member to marry would not be my first suggestion.

    What I appreciate about Brandon's situation is that he was fully open with his wife when they dated. It was a mutual decision for them to get married, fully knowing that they did not marry based on sexual attraction (at least not him being sexually attracted to her; I can expect that she very possibly was/is sexually attracted to him). This curbed a lot of grief that could have happened down the road if he were trying to repress his attraction itself (i.e. deny it existed), or felt he was living a lie. In their case, there's no "lie" to live. It was all out in the open before any marital decisions were made.

    As for the other student who was applauded for saying he wanted both to act on his SSA and to continue going to church--Of course I would welcome him and their partner, because we are all invited to come unto Christ, and we are all sinners; his would just be a more visible sin that we could tell he was openly choosing to do. But the applause is what bothers me, simply because the panel seemed to have the goal of raising awareness that gay mormons can have SSA and still be stalwart members, and then his personal comment was that he was willing to openly sin but still raise a family in the gospel as well.

    Still, I hope that the panel raised the general awareness it sought to teach; that SSA itself is not the sin, and that it's ok to have open dialogues about it, and that it's so incredibly important for straight members like me to love, respect, and support my fellow gay members for who they are; children of God.

    Hopefully LESS insensitive, uneducated and hurtful things will be said, and MORE sensitive, educated and understanding support will be given to those who are both active LDS and attracted to the same gender.


Please feel free to comment or leave questions. Just be aware that I moderate all comments before posting. I won't post things that are offensive. I will post controversial comments and questions so long as they aren't mean-spirited. I'd love to hear your comments and answer questions; just play nice! :)