Question: Do Mormons believe that same-sex attraction is "inborn" or "genetic"?


Question: Do Mormons believe that same-sex attraction is "inborn" or "genetic"?

The Church does not have a stance on the causes of same-sex attraction

The Church does not have a stance on the causes of same-sex attraction. Whether it is genetic, environmental, or some combination of the two does not affect Church doctrine. Elder Oaks and Elder Wickman discussed this in an interview with public affairs:

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: You’re saying the Church doesn’t necessarily have a position on ‘nurture or nature’

ELDER OAKS: That’s where our doctrine comes into play. The Church does not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction. Those are scientific questions — whether nature or nurture — those are things the Church doesn’t have a position on.

ELDER WICKMAN: Whether it is nature or nurture really begs the important question, and a preoccupation with nature or nurture can, it seems to me, lead someone astray from the principles that Elder Oaks has been describing here. Why somebody has a same-gender attraction… who can say? But what matters is the fact that we know we can control how we behave, and it is behavior which is important.[1]

There has been a lot of contradictory research that has been done to determine the origins of same-sex attraction, but there has not been anything conclusive ever shown. The American Psychological Association has stated:

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.[2]

Further research will hopefully shed more light on the subject, but whatever reason science gives for same-sex attraction, it does not affect Church doctrine.

What if same-sex attraction is genetic

Let us suppose that it was shown that same-sex attraction is genetic. Would this be a doctrinal problem for the Law of Chastity? Even if same-sex attraction were perfectly natural, the Church still teaches we should overcome the natural man. Elder Oaks gives the following explanation:

Some kinds of feelings seem to be inborn. Others are traceable to mortal experiences. Still other feelings seem to be acquired from a complex interaction of “nature and nurture.” All of us have some feelings we did not choose, but the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we still have the power to resist and reform our feelings (as needed) and to assure that they do not lead us to entertain inappropriate thoughts or to engage in sinful behavior.

Different persons have different physical characteristics and different susceptibilities to the various physical and emotional pressures we may encounter in our childhood and adult environments. We did not choose these personal susceptibilities either, but we do choose and will be accountable for the attitudes, priorities, behavior, and “lifestyle” we engraft upon them.

Essential to our doctrinal position on these matters is the difference between our freedom and our agency. Our freedom can be limited by various conditions of mortality, but God’s gift of agency cannot be limited by outside forces, because it is the basis for our accountability to him. The contrast between freedom and agency can be illustrated in the context of a hypothetical progression from feelings to thoughts to behavior to addiction. This progression can be seen on a variety of matters, such as gambling and the use of tobacco and alcohol.

Just as some people have different feelings than others, some people seem to be unusually susceptible to particular actions, reactions, or addictions. Perhaps such susceptibilities are inborn or acquired without personal choice or fault, like the unnamed ailment the Apostle Paul called “a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (2 Cor. 12:7). One person may have feelings that draw him toward gambling, but unlike those who only dabble, he becomes a compulsive gambler. Another person may have a taste for tobacco and a susceptibility to its addiction. Still another may have an unusual attraction to alcohol and the vulnerability to be readily propelled into alcoholism. Other examples may include a hot temper, a contentious manner, a covetous attitude, and so on.

In each case (and in other examples that could be given) the feelings or other characteristics that increase susceptibility to certain behavior may have some relationship to inheritance. But the relationship is probably very complex. The inherited element may be nothing more than an increased likelihood that an individual will acquire certain feelings if he or she encounters particular influences during the developmental years. But regardless of our different susceptibilities or vulnerabilities, which represent only variations on our mortal freedom (in mortality we are only “free according to the flesh” [2 Ne. 2:27]), we remain responsible for the exercise of our agency in the thoughts we entertain and the behavior we choose.

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.[3]

Many people believe opposite-sex attraction is natural, yet the church still puts restrictions on practicing heterosexuality outside of marriage. Elder Packer spoke of a husband who expressed his heterosexuality by viewing pornography. Elder Packer explains why this expression of heterosexuality can be overcome:

Pornography will always repel the Spirit of Christ and will interrupt the communications between our Heavenly Father and His children and disrupt the tender relationship between husband and wife.

The priesthood holds consummate power. It can protect you from the plague of pornography—and it is a plague—if you are succumbing to its influence. If one is obedient, the priesthood can show how to break a habit and even erase an addiction. Holders of the priesthood have that authority and should employ it to combat evil influences.

We raise an alarm and warn members of the Church to wake up and understand what is going on. Parents, be alert, ever watchful that this wickedness might threaten your family circle.

We teach a standard of moral conduct that will protect us from Satan’s many substitutes or counterfeits for marriage. We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong. From the Book of Mormon we learn that “wickedness never was happiness.” 13

Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father.[4]

Just as expressing heterosexuality outside of marriage can be overcome, the same is true for expressing homosexuality.

Understanding explanations of homosexuality

In the past, when leaders have spoken about homosexuality or homosexual orientation, they may not have been referring to same-sex attraction. Elder Oaks has stated:

"The First Presidency's letters condemning homosexuality are, by their explicit terms, directed at the practices of homosexuality."

When President Kimball spoke on homosexuality, he often clarified that he was talking about the "sexual act" and said that those attractions would never go away. This usage is consistent with modern definitions. One of the definitions in the modern dictionary of homosexuality is:

Sexual activity with another of the same sex.

Sexual orientation is likewise ambiguous. One of the definitions offered by the American Psychological Association is:

A person's sense of identity based on [sexual] attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions.

Both homosexuality and sexual orientation include a definition accepted by medical communities that is based on chosen behaviors. This is different than same-sex attraction.

There are some members of the church who have taught that the church endorses a particular theory as to the causes of same-sex attraction. Those who do this are misguided. In speaking about the causes of same-sex attraction, Elder Holland said:

Unfortunately, some people believe they have all the answers now and declare their opinions far and wide. Fortunately, such people do not speak for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[5]


Notes

  1. Dallin H. Oaks and Lance B. Wickman, "Same Gender Attraction," interview with Church Public Affairs (2006). off-site
  2. American Psychological Association, "Answers to your questions for a better understanding of sexual orientation and homosexuality," (2008),2 .
  3. Dallin H. Oaks, "Same-Gender Attraction," Ensign (October 2005), 9.
  4. Boyd K. Packer, "Cleansing the Inner Vessel," Ensign (October 2010).
  5. Jeffrey R. Holland, "Helping Those Who Struggle With Same Gender Attraction," Ensign (October 2007).