Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It Gets Better

Since this is my last week at The Daily Herald, I got another turn writing "The Skinny."  Instead of writing about politics this time, I went for something a little broader.

Have you seen the video "It Gets Better at Brigham Young University"?

It's really pretty amazing. I don't know if even five years ago, BYU students who identified themselves as gay would have told anybody, much less a video camera.

After the video, I had all kinds of reactions, thoughts and questions.

1) The first one was the subject of my column: I wonder if this would have been possible without social media, and not just because it was on YouTube and Facebook. I mean, with our generation's inclination to reveal anything and everything online, I think it paved the way for a video like this, and the healing and tolerance it promotes. Of course, saying too much online can backfire (I know from personal experience). But at the same time, when you see others put themselves out there and allow themselves to be vulnerable, especially with a subject like this, you can't help but feel closer to them and want to understand them.

Here's my column:

Give me unity

2) Before you reading further, you might want to read elsewhere on my blog to learn more about my philosophy on homosexuality.

If I could have interviewed someone from this video, I would have loved to ask them, "Now what?"

Each of the people in the video related their experience of being introduced to same-sex attraction, trying to fight through it because they understood that attraction was in conflict with everything they had known, becoming overwhelmed with guilt to the point of contemplating suicide, and then being blessed with healing and comfort through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and knowing that God loves them even with this inner struggle.

So, now what? Does that mean they stay in the Church and live the lifestyle it preaches, continue to live the law of chastity, and cope with and deny themselves of those same-sex attractions? Do they go so far as to overcome the attractions to such a degree that they can be married in the temple and partake of all those blessings?

Or do they interpret their new found acceptance a different way? Do they give in and follow the path of those same-sex attractions, therefore denying themselves many of the blessings that come from the restored gospel?

According to my understanding of eternal truth and God's plan for us, that first option would be the correct choice. And I think I can assume that by appearing in an "official" BYU video like this, the people in the video understand what homosexuality truly is, according to the restored gospel, and would choose the first option. But, I would just be curious to learn what happens next.

Of course, no matter what these people choose, I should still have respect, tolerance and even love for them. Whether they remain lifelong members of the Church, or find a same-sex relationship and leave the Church behind, I don't want to judge them.

3) I don't think I had ever realized how common it was for someone struggling with their sexual orientation, especially in the Church, to consider suicide. Of course I had heard plenty of stories of when the inner torment does result in suicide. But I had never put myself in those shoes as much as I did while watching this video.

4) When the people telling their stories in the video talk about the answer to their prayers, the feeling of acceptance and the message God is telling them they're okay even if they're gay, I hope it doesn't get misinterpreted.

I understood it to mean that God loves them unconditionally and perfectly, no matter what struggles or temptations they go through. Not all of us have the same temptations. Some of us may never have a problem with same-sex attraction, but instead have other weaknesses. We are all sinners. And yet God still loves us and will always be there for us. As Elder Holland said in the most recent general conference, "... however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines."

However, some may think this video means endorsing the idea that homosexuality is just as righteous and congruent with God's ways as heterosexuality, and that it won't be long before God and the Church approve same-sex marriage as merely an alternative to traditional marriage.

I don't think the revelation these people gained was that kind of "okay." God still loves them, and they are still His children. But He still expects them to live the law of chastity, resist temptation and repent if they do make mistakes.

An anonymous blogger who calls himself "(Gay) Mormon Guy" explains this better than I could on his blog:

Re-post: Original It Gets Better Post

It Gets Better... at BYU

(By the way, I highly recommend his blog. It seems to be a very accurate take on how one can identify himself as gay and yet reconcile with the Church's doctrine and follow it faithfully.)

5) I'll admit, there were parts of the video that made me feel a little defensive about BYU and the Church. When the text came up about BYU being voted the worst environment for gay students by the Princeton Review, or that until recently students who identified themselves as gay were afraid to do so publicly or else be expelled from the school, it made BYU sound like a horrible villain. Of course, as the video progressed it got to its main point, that "It Gets Better at Brigham Young University." But I'm sure some people will read those statements int he video and have an even stronger conviction that BYU is an intolerant, backwards place.

Though the Church's stance on same-sex marriage will probably always be seen as intolerant and backwards to some (maybe even a majority) of people, I think most people at BYU understand homosexuality in a similar way that I do. I think most people at BYU understand that acting on same-sex attraction and temptations is a sin, but that acting on any temptation is a sin and that we shouldn't shun any particular type of sinner. We are all sinners, and we should be selfless and we should not be quick to judge. I hope anyone, no matter their sexual orientation, will feel welcome among BYU students or church members.

6) That said, the history of understanding homosexuality - or lack thereof - would be unfortunate and even cruel in the context of today. Back when most people thought of homosexuality as either completely appalling and lascivious, the result of a brain malfunction that just needed a little therapy (whether psychoanalytic or electroshock) or advice ("What you need to do is just marry yourself a nice, pretty girl, and this will all go away"), most people at BYU or the Church thought that too.

Fortunately for everybody, understanding has improved and Church leaders and members have become more enlightened on the subject. From the rest of the world's point of view, the Church might seem slow on the uptake. But any step closer to truth and knowledge is a good thing.

It is interesting to me that the understanding what homosexuality is and how it relates to society and spirituality has been a very, very gradual process for the Church (although it seems to be accelerating). For other questions, the Church received almost instantaneous answers that were well ahead of their time. The Word of Wisdom was revealed, in answer to a question, more than 100 years before science caught up and condemned smoking tobacco as hazardous and cancerous. And with the question of priesthood eligibility, the transition from the priesthood being held by only certain races to "all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color" was practically overnight.

I wonder why, on this issue, the process has been so different. I don't have any theories materialized. Do any of you?


Anyway, those are a few of my thoughts. Whatever your opinion, I hope that the video taught you something like it did for me.

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