Elder D. Todd Christofferson
Interview on the Purpose of the Website: www.mormonsandgays.org
What is the purpose of this website?
We’re not endeavoring here to try to cover the waterfront and address every issue that could be, and needs to be, addressed in different settings relating to same-sex attraction. But the idea is to open us, all of us, to greater understanding. And you’ll hear stories and experiences from quite a diversity of people and backgrounds and perceptions. They’re genuine; they’re real; they’re authentic. And while you see some saying “this didn’t work” and “this did” and a progression in life, we feel that this can only lead to greater sensitivity and better understanding, and that’s what we’re about.
Our only real hope in addressing these very sensitive and difficult issues is that we are civil and listen to one another and try to understand. You’ll see in these experiences that some people state what you could call the position of the Church—it coincides perfectly—and others not. But again they’re all very authentic, and as we listen to one other and strive to understand, things can only get better.
One of the things I like about what you see on this website is that people have hope. Some have not always had hope, and they talk about how they keep hope in their lives or bring it back if it’s been lost. To me, one of the key things, one of the key messages that comes from these experiences, as well as from the teachings of the Church, is that we approach it all with patience, but remembering that the person who’s really striving has the Savior in his or her life; has the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter; has hope; has happiness; and can live in a happy, hopeful way.
What audience is the Church trying to reach?
We may not be talking about large numbers. In fact, we’re probably not. But every soul matters. Everyone is important. The Savior made that plain when He told the parable of leaving the ninety and nine and going after the one. And I believe it’s important—it’s crucial, frankly, if we’re going to be followers of Jesus Christ, as we profess and strive to be—that we do minister to each other, every one, without exception.
In another sense, though, the audience is universal. We’re not here dealing with therapy issues and individual treatments and things of that kind. What we’re talking about is how we relate to one another, how we preserve hope and understanding and love, and struggle together in some cases, really. I mean, we’re giving meaning to struggle in the sense that we help each other through our challenges. This is a challenge, and all of us can understand that and can be empathetic about that because we all have a challenge. I heard someone express once, “We all have a horse to tame.” And so same-sex attraction may be one, and something else with someone else. But we can all appreciate, I think, that each of us face challenges in life, and this is a way for us to help each of us understand better a particular one that may not be so well known or a common experience.
Is the Church softening its position regarding same-sex attraction?
There shouldn’t be a perception or an expectation that the Church’s doctrines or position have changed or are changing. It’s simply not true, and we want youth and all people to understand that. The doctrines that relate to human sexuality and gender are really central to our theology. And marriage between a man and a woman, and the families that come from those marriages—that’s all central to God’s plan and to the opportunities that He offers to us, here and hereafter. So homosexual behavior is contrary to those doctrines— has been, always will be—and can never be anything but transgression. It’s something that deprives people of those highest expectations and possibilities that God has for us.
That being said, it’s important to remember a few things that people don’t always understand or remember. And that is that homosexual behavior is not the unforgiveable sin. The Atonement and repentance can bring full forgiveness there, and peace. And secondly, I’d say that although we don’t know everything, we know enough to be able to say that same-sex attraction in and of itself is not a sin. The feeling, the desire is not classified the same as homosexual behavior itself. And the third point I would mention is that when people have those desires and same-sex attractions, our attitude is, “Stay with us.” I think that’s what God is saying: “Stay with me.” And that’s what we want to say in the Church: “Stay with us.” Let’s work together on this and find friendship and commonality and brotherhood and sisterhood, here more than anywhere. It’s important that there be love and that there be hope. Love is not to say acceptance or endorsement, but it is to say inclusion and not ostracism. We want to be with you and work together.
Are there restrictions on Church participation?
Someone who is adhering to the norm of chastity, someone who is following the covenants and the standards, the teachings of the gospel of Christ, though they may be dealing with same-sex attraction, really there’s no reason they cannot be fully participative, that they can’t be a full-fledged member of the Church and hold callings and speak and enter the temple and serve there, and all the other opportunities and blessings that can come from Church membership will be available to them. There are examples of this among Church members; there are multiple examples. And though no one would say that it’s always easy, all of us are endeavoring to maintain those norms and keep our covenants, and we’re all in the same boat, in the same company, in that regard. So, I say there are many, relatively speaking, who are finding that success in their lives and that happiness.
Should one be actively working to overcome same-sex attraction or just coping with it?
It’s difficult to say because each case is different, each person is different, and their circumstances will vary. You’ll see in some of these vignettes experiences that are recounted that people have found a diminishing of that same-sex attraction, almost to the point of vanishing, and others not at all. We don’t counsel people that heterosexual marriage is a panacea. You’ll see in some of these experiences that are related on this site that it has been a successful experience in a few cases, or some have expressed the success they’ve found in marriage and in raising a family and the joy and all that has filled out and blessed their lives as a consequence. But that, we know, is not always true, and it’s not always successful. Sometimes it’s been even disastrous. So, we think it’s something that each person can evaluate and they can discuss, both with priesthood leaders and family and others, and make decisions. But we simply don’t take a uniform position of saying “yes” always or “no” always.
One thing we want to stress is that this is but one aspect of any person’s life, and it need not become the consuming aspect of his or her life. One thing that’s always important is to recognize the feelings of a person, that they are real, that they are authentic, that we don’t deny that someone feels a certain way. We take the reality where it is, and we go from there. And we want people to feel that they have a home here, that we have much, much more in common than anything that’s different about us. Some of the experiences that are related in this website talk about that. And I believe it is crucial that we always continue to feel that, to express that, to acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings and circumstances, and go from there.
History aside, what counsel can you provide to those who are afraid to approach their local Church leaders?
I can understand that there could have been a legitimate concern about the kind of reception one might find from a local priesthood leader in the past. But I’m convinced that today there are so much more help and resources available to a bishop or a local priesthood leader. There’s greater understanding; there’s greater appreciation of the issues and how to help. We are training bishops; they have resources that they haven’t had in the past, that we haven’t been able to make available. There are resources online; there are resources in print. There’s just greater experience over time that has developed and accumulated. So, again, I say it’s really one of the very best first steps for one to take.
Describe the ideal setting for discussing this important issue.
Initial reactions are critical. And the inclination, the temptation that people often have is anger or rejection. Sometimes it’s simply denial, on both sides of the question, whatever it may be. And it’s important to have enough self-control to lay all that aside and to have a little patience, and to begin to talk and begin to listen and begin to try to understand better. We lose nothing by spending time together, by trying to understand, even where there’s not agreement on a course to follow at the moment or how to respond or how to react.
We don’t have to do everything today. We don’t have to resolve everything in a week or a month or a year. These things are questions of resolution over time and accommodation over time and seeking the will of the Lord over time and being guided by Him over time. So, I hope we will give ourselves the time and have the patience to listen and understand and not insist on everything being resolved within a certain framework of time.
Why doesn’t the Church just let people be?
This is a gospel of change. Jesus Christ is asking every one of us to change and to become better and to progress and to follow in His footsteps. His ultimate commandment is that we become as He is and as His Father. And none of us are at that point. None of us are free of things that we need to change in our lives and to improve. And the standard is always the gospel of Jesus Christ. And every one of us has to measure up to that standard because that’s where our ultimate happiness is going to be found. That’s where our ultimate freedom is going to come. And God, being just and loving all of His children, is going to help everyone who wants to progress toward that ideal, whatever they may need to do in their lives to do that.