Mormonism and gender issues/Same-sex attraction/Terminology

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PERSPECTIVES MEDIA QUESTIONS RESOURCES 2014 CONFERENCE

    Why do LDS sources typically refer to homosexual/gay/lesbian issues with such terms as "same-sex attraction"?

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Questions


Why does FairMormon (and other LDS sources) typically refer to homosexual/gay/lesbian issues with such terms as "same-sex attraction" and heterosexual/straight issues with such terms as "opposite-sex attraction"?

Answer


LDS doctrine emphasizes that people are not the sum of their desires, temptations, or sins. Secular evidence suggests that those who self-identify with their desires in this way are more likely to engage in acts which the gospel of Christ teaches are sinful. FairMormon wishes to support members and non-members in choosing to live lives in harmony with God's commandments.

Our choice of terminology should not be construed to deny others the privilege of choosing their own acts or self-labels. When labels such as "homosexual," or "heterosexual", and labels such as "gay," "lesbian," or "straight" are used by FairMormon, this terminology should be understood to:

  • reflect the self-understanding of those referred to; or
  • serve as an adjective (e.g., "gay activists" are those working politically on behalf of those who self-identify as gay or "heterosexual marriage" is a marriage between two people of the opposite sex regardless of sexual orientation).

Detailed Analysis

The language used to describe people or phenomena can influence how we perceive or think about such matters.

LDS doctrine teaches that "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." [1] Marriage between a husband and wife, and sealing into eternal family units is the foundation of heaven in LDS theology, and Church leaders have repeatedly taught that no child of God will bear the burden of erotic desire for the opposite sex after death.

Attraction to members of the same sex, like heterosexual temptation, is not a sin. Sin only occurs when we encourage or seek out such attraction outside of marriage, or act upon it.

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." [2]
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. [3] 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).

Our true identity

Elder Dallin H. Oaks noted a natural human tendency to use a single facet of our personality or experience as a large part of a self-definition:

I think it is an accurate statement to say that some people consider feelings of same-gender attraction to be the defining fact of their existence. There are also people who consider the defining fact of their existence that they are from Texas or that they were in the United States Marines. Or they are red-headed, or they are the best basketball player that ever played for such-and-such a high school. People can adopt a characteristic as the defining example of their existence and often those characteristics are physical.
We have the agency to choose which characteristics will define us; those choices are not thrust upon us.
The ultimate defining fact for all of us is that we are children of Heavenly Parents, born on this earth for a purpose, and born with a divine destiny. Whenever any of those other notions, whatever they may be, gets in the way of that ultimate defining fact, then it is destructive and it leads us down the wrong path. [4]

Some use a self-identity as "homosexual" to imply or argue that acting on homosexual desires is an inevitable or proper outcome, since it is simply "who I am." The Church teaches, rather, that our temptations, unhealthy desires, or sins do not define who we are as children of God.

Can a person identify as gay or lesbian and still be a member of the Church in good standing?

In 1998, President Hinckley said:

"People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves so-called gays and lesbians. My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God. They may have certain inclinations which are powerful and which may be difficult to control. Most people have inclinations of one kind or another at various times. If they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church. If they violate the law of chastity and the moral standards of the Church, then they are subject to the discipline of the Church, just as others are."

In 1999, President Hinckley taught:

"As I said from this pulpit one year ago, our hearts reach out to those who refer to themselves as gays and lesbians. We love and honor them as sons and daughters of God. They are welcome in the Church."

While President Hinckley avoided directly labeling anyone as gay or lesbian, he was directing his welcome to those who did make use of the label. In no case did he say that only people who shun the label can go forward as all other members, but specifically said that those who considered themselves to be gay could go on as all other members. There was no request for them to hide their identity or to change their vocabulary.

In general, Church leaders recommend against labeling anyone, including yourself. Labels detract from our divine nature as children of God.

In 2010, Bishop Keith B. McMullin taught:

When I was a youngster, my mother discouraged me from using common language when speaking of sacred or special things. For example, instead of referring to an expectant mother as being pregnant, she encouraged me to say “she is expecting a baby.” In Mother’s view, the latter description was more respectful and reverential, the former more clinical and common. Her teachings have had a salient effect upon me. The older I become, the more meaningful is her wisdom. The more we see and speak of intimate things as mere biology, the less likely we are to view and understand them in the context of exalting theology.

This counsel can also apply to using the label "straight" or "gay" to refer to children of God. In 1995, Elder Oaks taught:

We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior. [5]

Teachings of Church leaders

Church leaders have, therefore, consistently emphasized that such temptations and desires do not form a core or irreducible part of our nature.

In 1978, Elder Boyd K. Packer said:

And so, now to the subject. To introduce it I must use a word. I will use it one time only. Please notice that I use it as an adjective, not as a noun; I reject it as a noun. I speak to those few, those very few, who may be subject to homosexual temptations. I repeat, I accept that word as an adjective to describe a temporary condition. I reject it as a noun naming a permanent one. [6]

In 1995, Elder Dallin H. Oaks noted:

We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.
Feelings are another matter. 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. [7]

In 2007, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:

CITE

SSA vs homoesexual

  • Is SSA synonmous with homosexual?

SSA only refers to having same-sex attraction. Homosexual may be referring to attractions, identity or behavior. Also, same-sex attraction does not preclude the presence of opposite-sex attractions. A person who is attracted to both genders may identify as bisexual, but they still have same-sex attractions.

How does the terminology used by the Church compare with the terminology used by the secular world?

Definition of sexual orientation

The American Psychological Association gives the following definition for sexual orientation:

"Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person's sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions." [8]

The term sexual orientation in and of itself is ambiguous. There are many members of the Church who are primarily attracted to the same sex, but their sense of identity and community is more closely connected to a heterosexual lifestyle. Depending on which definition of sexual orientation that being used, the same person may have a homosexual or a heterosexual orientation.

Definition of homosexuality, homosexual, and gay

In regards to the terms homosexual, lesbian and gay, Elder Oaks stated:

We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.

In regards to the term homosexuality, Elder Oaks stated:

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

How does this compare with the dictionary? The American Heritage Dictionary defines homosexual as someone exhibiting homosexuality. It defines homosexuality as:

  1. Sexual orientation to persons of the same sex.
  2. Sexual activity with another of the same sex. [9]

Both the dictionary and Elder Oaks show ambiguity between using homosexual to refer to thoughts or behaviors. Interpreting condemnations of homosexuality as condemnation of homosexual behavior rather than condemning a person is also inline with modern definitions. The usage of terminology within the church is standard English.

Avoiding using gay as a noun

With regards to using gay as a noun, Elder Oaks said:

We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.

The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style gives a similar warning against using gay as a noun:

Gay is often considered objectionable when used as a noun to refer to particular individuals, as in "There were two gays on the panel"; here phrasing such as "Two members of the panel were gay" should be used instead. [10]

According to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media reference guide, many newspapers have also advised their newspaper writers to avoid using gay as a noun. [11] They cite the following examples:

New York Times:

Do not use gay as a singular noun. Gays, a plural noun, may be used only as a last resort, ordinarily in a hard-to-fit headline.

Washington Post:

When it is necessary to mention it, gay may be used as an adjective but not as a noun, except as a plural: gay man, gay woman, gay people, gays. Not a gay...
Often, simply reporting the facts obviates the need for labels. Describing a slaying, for instance, should suffice without referring to it as a homosexual slaying. Ask yourself if you would use the term heterosexual slaying. In a recent story, a man "charged" that his former wife "was a lesbian" as if it were a slur, when simply alleging an affair between the ex-wife and the other woman would suffice.
Be wary of using homosexual as a noun. In certain contexts, it can be seen as a slur.

Notes


  1. The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, The Family: A Proclamation to the World (first presented 23 September 1995).
  2. [citation needed]
  3. Laumann, Edward O. , The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States 299
  4. Dallin H. Oaks and Lance B. Wickman, "Same Gender Attraction," interview with Church Public Affairs (2006). off-site
  5. Dallin H. Oaks, "Same-Gender Attraction," Ensign (October 1995).
  6. "To The One," address given to twelve-stake fireside, Brigham Young University (5 March 1978); reprinted in Boyd K. Packer, That All May Be Edified (Bookcraft, 1982), pp. 186–200, emphasis added; italics in original. GL direct link
  7. Dallin H. Oaks, "Same-Gender Attraction," Ensign (October 1995), 9.
  8. "Orientation," American Psychological Association (last accessed 27 November 2010).
  9. Definition of Homosexuality, dictionary.reference.com, s.v. "homosexuality," (last accessed 27 November 2010).
  10. [American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005), 201.
  11. Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media reference guide (last accessed 27 November 2010).

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