Am I a Sheep or a Goat?

Like 750,000 other California Mormons, I sat amongst my fellow ward members in our local chapel today as our bishop read the Preserving Traditional Marriage and Strengthening Families memo over the pulpit. He followed that by reading a memo outlining the church's views on political neutrality. He closed by asking each of us to ponder in our hearts in the coming days and weeks how we could best follow the prophet and implement his advice.

There was no discernable reaction from the congregation ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú no murmurings of disapproval, nor whispers of agreement; no heads silently nodding in assent, or shaking with quiet displeasure. The subject did not come up in our Gospel Doctrine class, nor during our combined Priesthood/Relief Society lesson. If there was discussion about the memo in the hallway, I didn't hear it.

My reaction? During the reading of the memo, and for most of Sacrament Meeting, my heart beat fast and my face slowly burned. What was my emotion? Anger? Disappointment? Sadness? Not really. Sure, I've felt those emotions with regard to this issue, but I've known about the memo for days, and I've always maintained a pragmatic, low-expectations approach to the issue: I'm optimistic that positive changes for Gays in the church will occur, but it won't happen overnight, and it will inevitably come about via the stumbling two-steps-forward-one-step-back process. This was yet another proverbial step back.

So if I wasn't feeling noticeable anger or sadness, why was my heart thumping like a pair of shoes in a Whirlpool washer-dryer?

It took me a few moments, but I finally realized what it was: Impotence. I wanted to do something, I wanted to say something. But do what? Say what?

My wife's advice was to remain silent and not make waves, that it would all sort itself out in the end. On the other end of the spectrum I'd read of others who planned to stage a walk-out protest during the reading of the memo, and heard of others who planned to stop attending church altogether. Neither alternative appealed to me, nor seemed particularly effective.

My feeling of impotence was exacerbated because just that morning I had re-read Frances Lee Menlove's superb devotional, Compassion With Action. (Go read it right now ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú trust me, it's the best thing you'll read on the bloggernacle this month.)

Menlove's devotional is an exciting and somewhat daunting exploration of Matthew's parable of the final great division of the sheep and goats. The Son of Man will separate people, one from another, as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. To the Son of Man, the sheep are those who '…did it unto the least of these… For I was hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; Naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.'

According to Menlove:

In this story, the final performance appraisal reduces all criteria to compassion. There is not a whisper about creeds or doctrine. There is not a word about cursing, or attendance at church meetings, or homosexuality. Nothing about fame, knowledge, or fortune. It is so simple it's scary.

Actually, that's not quite correct. It does not simply reduce to compassion. The difference between the sheep and the goats is action. It is compassion with action. The goats are goats because of inaction. They did nothing. There is no indication they had hostility or any ill will. They didn't do anything wicked, they just failed to do good.

But this is the part that really sunk its hooks in me, the part that was primarily responsible for my feelings of impotence:

But the Bible is concerned not only with suffering but also with causes of suffering. In fact, it could be argued that 'the Bible is less concerned with alleviating the effects of injustice, than in eliminating its causes.' William Sloan Coffin puts it this way: 'Said prophet Amos, ?¢‚ǨÀúLet justice' ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú not charity ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú ?¢‚ǨÀúroll down like mighty waters,' and for good reason: whereas charity alleviates the effects of poverty, justice seeks to eliminate the causes of it.'

It is a lot easier to talk about charity than about social justice. Social justice talk leads to political controversy. But ignoring social justice issues because they raise political issues is itself a very political position in favor of the status quo. We are called on to be more than an effective and compassionate ambulance service. It is important to save poor orphans from burning buildings, but it is also vital to work toward a society where orphans are not poor and buildings adhere to fire codes.

In other words, as followers of Jesus, we are called not only to care for those who are suffering, but also to transform the conditions that bring about suffering.

So my wife's advice ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú to remain silent, or 'go write a dumb blog post that nobody is going to read' ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú left me feeling like a bleating goat. It's all compassion and no action. It's ignoring social justice issues because they are political and unpleasant. It's tacitly accepting the unjust and unequal status quo. It's agreeing to live with systemic cancer.

So how can an Active Mormon who values his or her membership in the church, but who also supports the rights of gays to marry, show compassion with action?

Any ideas? Here is what I decided to do:

I made an appointment to see my bishop to discuss the Preserving Traditional Marriage and Strengthening Families memo. My purpose is two-fold:

First, I'd like to share my concerns regarding the church's position on Gay Marriage, as well as my unease with the church's definitions of 'political' vs 'moral' issues. I think it is important he know that some people ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú and at least one member of his ward ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú believes that committed gay marriage is not a threat, but possibly even a boon to traditional heterosexual marriage. I consider my bishop a friend. He and I have kicked around other controversial subjects in the past, always in an open and respectful manner.

Second, and more important, I'd like to share resources with him that might be of use when or if he counsels gay members (or member spouses, mothers, fathers, etc. of gays)?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ call it a Gay 'Care Package.'

It will include the following:

1.) One copy of the pamphlet A Guide for Latter-day Saint Families Dealing with Homosexual Attraction. A wonderful little guide written by Robert Rees, Ron Schow, Marybeth Raynes, and William Bradshaw that does just as the title suggests.

2.) One copy of the book In Quiet Desperation by Fred and Marilyn Matis and Ty Mansfield. It isn't perfect, but it was published by Deseret Books (very important), and accurately depicts the sometimes agonizing struggle of those who feel same-sex attraction, as well as those related to them.

3.) The classic Sunstone article, Pasturing the Far Side: Making a Place for Believing Homosexuals, by Stan Roberts.

4.) The Dialogue article, Between Suicide and Celibacy, by Robert Rees, a great framing review for the book In Quiet Desperation.

5.) Ben Christensen's Dialogue article, Getting Out/Staying In: One Mormon Straight/Gay Marriage, as well as Ron Schow's response, Homosexual Attraction and LDS Marriage Decisions.

6.) John Gustav-Wrathall's Sunstone article, A Gay Man's Testimony.

So here are my questions:

1.) Whether you agree with the recent memo or not, how else can Active Mormons who support gay rights show Compassion with Action? How can we be sheep, not goats?

2.) What are some other good resources that I can include for my bishop's Gay Care Package?

Postscript, July 18, 2008:

I had a wonderful meeting with my bishop last night.?Ǭ† I told him I wanted to focus on the needs of our Gay brothers and sisters, and the feelings for Members who might not agree with the Church’s stance on this issue, rather than the political, social, or religious pros and cons of Gay Marriage, or the very complex nature of sexual attraction.?Ǭ†

I’ll keep the rest of our meeting private, except to say that I think we both felt uplifted by the conversation, and that he appeared to be very touched by my “Care Package” (which included everything listed above, plus Carol Lynn Pearson’s “No More Goodbyes“).?Ǭ†

He closed by thanking me again, and saying,?Ǭ†”I wish every Bishop had a Matt Thurston in his ward.”?Ǭ† Ha.?Ǭ† That made me smile.?Ǭ† Not that I doubted his sincerity for a moment, but that was one of those “Was that a compliment… or not?” statements. 🙂


  1. Shelly M. says:

    I have many gay friends, associates and family members in my life. I have loved them as equal to all other human beings. However, my love for the Savior and the need to protect His gospel causes me much reflection as to “where to draw the line” in terms of supporting things that are not a part of His gospel.

    He has a prophet on the earth for exactly this – to provide clarity. The Proclamation to the Family gently reminds us that gender is essential to our eternal progression. You are right, it probably will have no affect on heterosexual marriages, but it will have an effect on those individuals who want to continue their pursuit that is contrary to the Lord’s plan for us.

    I think we can continue to show love, compassion and understanding without granting them the title of marriage. That is a title given by the Lord. It is not ours to re-define. A true follower of Christ will administer to those in pain, but will not undermine His gospel while doing it.

  2. Dave says:

    I sympathize with your sense of frustration, Matt, but I don’t see a visit with the bishop along the lines you have outlined as a good idea. He won’t pass any of your information up the line and you won’t change anyone’s mind. The only predictable result is that it will make your wife upset. 😉

    If make an appointment you must, a better approach would be to share your concern that having a different opinion on this political issue will make you unwelcome in the ward. Then instead of having to defend the LDS position, the bishop can emphasize LDS neutrality, confirm that you don’t have to participate in any LDS-sponsored political activities if you don’t want to, and remind you how much he appreciates having you as an active and attending member of the ward. Your wife will be happier and the bishop will learn that the letter and campaign may be sending the wrong message to some members. Much better outcome.

  3. adcama says:

    Matt – thank you for your thoughtful post. I am with you 100% on this issue. I have no dog in the fight, but I feel so strongly about this issue. I have found myself wanting to do something – anything – but I don’t quite know what to do. I think your plan is a good one. I would add one additional item to your care package. My wife and I happened upon a PBS program last week titled “Anyone and Everyone” ( The film describes the process of an LDS family (and families of different religious faiths) as they discover someone they love is gay. I was moved almost to tears….especially with the compassion shown by the LDS parents….and the articulate way in which they describe their position. The LDS parents are still LDS, still republican….but are firmly against the church on this matter. It was so good, I ordered a copy of the DVD for several people I know who think I am a heretic. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

  4. LRC says:

    I have to disagree with Dave at least in part. From personal experience meeting with local leaders, alerting them to the existence of ideas other than orthodox can be helpful.

    In this week’s example, I voiced my concern about this letter to my local leaders, and as a result, when the letter was read and discussed in our ward, it was done with an admonition to show compassion to all. Not only that, the bishop thanked me profusely for giving him some books on the subject which opened his eyes and heart to a different point of view than what he previously held.

    Since church attendance happens at the local level, local leaders are the ones with the power to make a difference in weekly church life for their ward/branch/stake members. The information I shared with my bishop (and SP) may not go up the line, but one, at least, has promised it will go down the line, and it has already begun to set a tone in our local meetings. Certainly, if they are “more enlightened” on the subject, they’ll hopefully have the integrity to stand up and speak out to their “file leaders” as well.

    Personally, I wish the letter had never been written or read, but since I can’t control that, I can have some comfort in knowing that overt hate speech will not be tolerated or tacitly approved in my ward. If nothing else, I’ve changed one gung-ho, march-on-the-enemy attitude to one that first considers compassion, patience and concern for individual circumstances.

    Changing an attitude is not completely changing a mind, but every little bit helps.

  5. Mary Ellen says:

    Great post, Matt. Compassion with action is a great gospel-based approach.

    In 2000, I wrote letters to my stake and ward leaders outlining my position on Prop 22 and the church’s political action in California. From the conversations that resulted, it was clear that church leaders’ opinions on the issue ran the gamut; I was both praised and condemned for voicing my opinion.

    Although there’s room for differing opinions on one’s approach to the issue, the Savior’s call for me to love my neighbor is unequivocal. Anything that runs counter to that–whatever the source–is not my path.

    How about adding some women’s voices to your Gay Care Package? There are some here:

  6. Matt Thurston says:

    Shelly M., I appreciate your thoughtful response.

    Although I wish we’d change our policy/doctrine on gays, I’m more bothered by the fact that we are imposing our beliefs on others. God may have told you one thing, but he has told others something else.

    I repectfully recognize the right of: Evangelical Christians to reject evolution; Jehovah’s Witnesses to reject blood transfusions; Muslims to dictate what women should wear in public, and so on… but I’d be offended if any of those groups were successful in getting legislation passed that resulted in: my children being taught only Creationism at school; my family not being able to receive (or give) blood; my wife being forced to cover her body from head to toe.

    We have to share this planet with other believers, and it is bigoted to force our beliefs on others. Staying out of the fight is not the same as throwing the Proclamation on the Family on the ash heap.

  7. DoubleL says:

    I had a temple recommend interview this week and when they asked if I agreed with groups that went against our beliefs everything in me was screaming to say something, to protest the church’s involvement, but I just said no. Now I feel guilt about saying no and anger (still) that the church is involved. Rock and a hard place.

  8. Matt Thurston says:

    Dave, I have no illusions that my “care package” will be passed up the line, or that I will change anyone’s mind. Neither is an intention or goal.

    My primary goal is to give my bishop some good resources that might be of help (I’m guessing his information/resources are pretty limited), and at the same time to get a few things off my chest, assuage some guilt, etc.

    My second goal is probably a little self-serving, but so be it. Furthermore, as LRC suggests, meeting with local leaders to discuss alternative ideas has always been a positive experience for me.

    But I guess such a meeting and exchange of ideas is very “bishop dependent.” I’m lucky I guess because I have a great bishop. He is roughly my age. We have played sports together, discussed business ideas, and even double-dated. He has accompanied me to Miller-Eccles, and we have discussed tough issues like Blacks/Priesthood. He has sought my advice on other tough issues (i.e. relationship between Masonry & Mormonism).

    He’s a bright guy — Harvard educated — but more important, truly embodies the Christlike ideals of love, kindness, and charity. I expect we’ll have a thoughtful, even spiritual discussion. I’m sure I won’t change his mind, and he won’t change my mind, but I think we’ll both feel closer and better off for having had the conversation… and who knows if one of these books or articles won’t help someone someday.

  9. In 2006 a similar letter was passed around, urging us to write to our representatives to voice our opinion about a proposed constitutional amendment on marriage. And being the obedient guy I am, I did.

    May 30, 2006

    Sen. Murkowski,

    You’ve probably gotten a lot of emails from Mormons in Alaska urging you to vote for the proposed Constitutional amendment on marriage.

    Well, I’m a Mormon and I don’t think the amendment will do the country much good.

    It’s strange that the Mormons would want to pass this amendment. A little more than a hundred years ago, they were living their own alternative form of marriage, and the United States government made life pretty miserable for them, thus alienating a group of hard-working people with a fierce sense of loyalty. I think we, as Mormons, should have a little more empathy for others who are experimenting. And I think the government can learn a lesson from those old conflicts with the Mormons.

    From a religious standpoint, it seems to me that Jesus advocated taking down barriers and facilitating conversation between different people. Not putting up walls and preemptively ending the hopes of communication.

    From a political standpoint, I think voting for the amendment will only alienate a large group of potentially stable, constructive citizens who want to contribute to society, just as the virulent anti-polygamy sentiment in the United States alienated the Mormons.

    Please, leave this issue open. The discourse on this subject hasn’t reached a place where ending the conversation would be productive. There is still too much to talk about.

  10. Shelly M. says:

    Matt you are twisting ideologies to fit your platform.

    1. Standing up for something you believe in does not make someone bigoted. That term is thrown around for groups who somehow want you to feel guilty and change your stance. Believing in marriage as a sacred religious title between heterosexual couples does not make me bigoted.

    2. We have a right as a people to VOTE on whether we want to re-define marriage. Once you open the door for homosexuals, you MUST open it for other alternative forms of marriage. To say otherwise would be pure hypocrisy.

    3. My strongest feeling is that marriage is a title from God. It is not ours to re-define. You have your compassion misplaced. No we are not causing hurt and damage denying others something that is not theirs. I tell my teenagers everyday NO to things they are not entitled to. Giving into everything they demand is not good for them.

    3. Because my belief is based on religious principles does not make me any less valuable as a voter. We all have an origin for our beliefs. I choose to follow the prophet’s admonition that gender is essential our divine potential, therefore, children are entitled to a mother and a father. I will not push that on you anymore than you can push your views on me. That is what the voting booth is for regardless of what God has told anyone.

    4. The church is only encouraging individuals to become politically active. Every year there is something read from the pulpit, this one is just gaining more scrutiny. Interestingly enough, other religions have been fighting just a heavily and tenaciously and yet, the Mormons are the only ones being attacked over it.

    5. Things are passed every day in our courts and at the polls that I do not agree with and are in conflict with my religion, however, I don’t go around screaming “don’t push your beliefs on me”. Instead, I teach my children otherwise and learn to live peacefully. I believe we do need to make concession to co-habitate as citizens, but I will always make sure my voice is heard at the polls. I will win some, and I will lose some.

  11. Gerald Smith says:

    I think you are looking at the issue sideways. You are looking for ways to support a political stance: gay marriage. This is very different from showing an active compassion. We as LDS can reach out to those with issues that differ from commandments, but that does not mean the Church should or will adopt those weaknesses. Why don’t we allow the occasional drinker to have a temple recommend? Because in the Church, WoW and chastity issues tend to be all or nothing.
    It is okay to have homosexual attractions and attend the temple, just as it is okay to be attracted to alcohol and attend. Indulging in practices that are contrary to commandments is another thing.
    To believe in an issue that goes contrary to the Family Proclamation, which is very much a core doctrine in the Church, is to not consider the idea that the Brethren have received such guidance from the Lord. You make it sound like they are just rejecting it out of custom/tradition.
    It comes down to one key issue:
    Have the Brethren been inspired in issuing the Family Proclamation and their letter to wards?

    If yes, then we become sheep by following that counsel as a test of our faithfulness. Yet, we can still show compassion and kindness to gay people.

    If they are not inspired, then we need to stand up for what is true and correct, which probably means we need to seek another religion, because then we are looking at potentially fallen prophets.

    Given that homosexuality has been disapproved since OT times, I’d say this is an issue that will not change. While I have compassion for people with such same sex attraction, I see it on the same level as any addiction/attraction. They can be managed and dealt with if we have a strong enough testimony of living prophets.

  12. tesseract says:

    I came to Church wearing a rainbow ribbon. I don’t know if anybody noticed or not. When they read the letter, I didn’t notice any nods, a few squirms maybe. I was planning on walking out, but I felt prompted not to. During the sacrament, I pleaded with my HF to ensure that if there were any gay people in the ward that they would feel loved and that they would feel like there was a place for them.

    I was pleasantly surprised when two of the talks were about “Caring for/Seeking for/Encircling the One”. I can’t quite remember the correct phase, but they were two excellent talks about how some members leave the church because they feel different or because they feel there is no place for them, and how important it is to search for the one lost sheep. I felt the spirit so strongly, and I felt really good that I had come to church and that I had not walked out.

    I like your idea of talking to the bishop and sharing resources. I would like to do that. I alsoam planning on wearing my rainbow ribbon to church every Sunday until November. My hopes is that people might talk to me privately (who either share or don’t share similar viewpoints) and maybe some healthy dialog can ensue. Is the ribbon disrespectful in any way? I do not want to be disrespectful or distract from the spirit. I felt like it was the most respectful, non-intrusive thing I could do.

  13. Shelly M., thanks again for another thoughtful response! My thoughts on your five points:

    1.) You are right — “Believing in marriage as a sacred religious title between heterosexual couples does not make me bigoted” — but I didn’t say that.

    There is a difference between “believing” something, and denying others the same or equal rights because of those beliefs. The church once supported anti-miscegenation laws that banned interracial marriage. That too was bigoted. What is the difference? The issue is equal rights, not personal beliefs.

    As with the Word of Wisdom, we can believe and teach abstinence from alcohol, but we don’t have to force others to live by the same standard.

    2.) “Once you open the door for homosexuals, you MUST open it for other alternative forms of marriage. To say otherwise would be pure hypocrisy.”

    That simply doesn’t make sense. That is like anti-marijuana lobbyists arguing that once you open the door for marijuana, you HAVE to also legalize meth, heroin, etc.

    No, each case for marriage must be judged based on its own criteria. If gays are allowed to marry, should a man also be allowed to marry a 10 year old child, or an animal? No, because the rights and/or mental capacity of the child or animal are not taken into consideration.

    Polygamy involves consenting adults, but there are perfectly valid legal reasons why marriage could or should be defined between two people, and not more.

    3.) No argument about your right to believe and/or vote per the dictates of your conscience. No argument about the church preaching its beliefs, or teaching re the importance of voting. But they shouldn’t take an active/public role in advocating and lobbying for one position or another. If it does, then I think relgion in general has crossed the separation-of-church-and-state line, and we should reconsider its tax-exempt status.

    4.) “other religions have been fighting just a heavily and tenaciously and yet, the Mormons are the only ones being attacked over it.”

    I don’t see Mormons being singled out. In any case, I find it ironic that we are joining a “coalition” of churches — let’s face it, primarily evangelical or born-again christian churches — that recently proved themselves to be bigoted against the Mormons in their dealings with Romney’s presidential candidacy. But with Romney out of the picture, I’m sure they’ll now gladly welcome us back to their fox hole to fight side-by-side against gay marriage.

    5.) “however, I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t go around screaming ‘don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t push your beliefs on me’.”

    You would, and so would I, if they were denying you some basic rights.

    “Instead, I teach my children otherwise and learn to live peacefully.”

    Exactly!! 🙂

  14. Gerald (#11), all good points. I believe you and all Mormons when they talk of the importance of extending compassion and kindness to gays or those that feel same-sex attraction. I’m not rejecting such as empty rhetoric.

    But this is your key sentance:

    “We as LDS can reach out to those with issues that differ from commandments, but that does not mean the Church should or will adopt those weaknesses.”

    I’m not really saying the Church should adopt Gay Marriage, but that it should allow Society to adopt Gay Marriage. My post is less about forcing the church to change its doctrine/policy, and more about the church crossing the line to compel its beliefs on others.

    So yeah, I’d be very happy if the church one day changed its doctrine to make room for gays, but for now I’d be content if they let other religious (and non-religious) belivers enjoy the same rights to marriage that Mormons enjoy.

    Switching gears to something else you said…

    “Have the Brethren been inspired in issuing the Family Proclamation and their letter to wards? If they are not inspired… then we are looking at potentially fallen prophets.”

    Looking at prophets as “inspired” or “fallen” is a false (and dangerous) dichotomy. We are all — prophets included — inspired and fallen. Parsing the difference is the purpose of life, isn’t it? I think we learn and grow more by such an exercise, than by simply “following the prophet.”

  15. Shelly M. says:

    Once again, you twist it to “fit”.

    Here’s a scripture for you to ponder:

    2 Timothy 4:3-4
    3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves…
    4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

    After reading your post to Gerald, I am believing that you are posing as a Mormon as you are in contradiction to that which we hold sacred, believing in continuing revelation.

    We aren’t discussing something that is not mentioned in the Bible as a sin. We cannot support gay marriage and say we believe in God’s word. It’s that simple. Stop twisting it with misplaced compassion and political double speak.

  16. Mark IV says:

    Matt, actually, I think your visit with the bishop does have a good chance of bearing fruit, eventually. I think it is a very good idea, and I wish you well.

  17. Mary Ellen says:

    #14 Shelly M said:

    We cannot support gay marriage and say we believe in God?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s word. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s that simple.

    I respectfully disagree with both of these statements. The first denies that it is possible for God to reveal a personal path that differes from the generalized pronouncements of the church. Personally, I am not comfortable placing those kinds of limits on an infinite, divine being. Nor do I believe that supporting gay marriage is incompatible with following God’s word as we each understand it or with Christian beliefs in general. John Shelby Spong has an interesting take on the issue in his book, Living in Sin?: A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality.

    I also disagree that this issue or the various approaches to it–legal, personal, or theological–are simple. In my experience, it’s anything but. There’s also plenty of room for you to feel differently.

  18. Thanks for the link, adcama (#3). I watched the trailer for Anyone and Everyone and it looks wonderful. How many of the stories feature Mormons?

    Nice thoughts, Mary Ellen. I agree I need some women’s voices in my care package. I’ll peruse the link and try to find some.

    Well-written as usual, Stephen (#9). As I’ve said many times, “You have the gift!”

    Thanks Mark IV. Maybe I’ll follow up with a comment after I meet with my bishop. I always enjoy your comments around the bloggernacle, especially at BCC.

    MoHoHawaii (#17), enjoyed reading through your blog. That video “A Horror Story for June” is just a shocker. I really hope that was a unique case, (or at worst, a unique period of time), and that kind of thing doesn’t happen today.

    Shelly (#15), I’ve enjoyed the back-and-forth with you, but it seems that our conversation has probably run its course. Suffice it to say that I consider myself Mormon, especially because I so ardently cherish the twin Mormon concepts of: 1.) Free agency, and 2.) Ongoing, personal revelation.

    Embracing such concepts sometimes might put my beliefs and opinions at odds with the church and its prophets, but in my heart that makes me more Mormon, not less Mormon.

  19. adcama says:

    The program profiles a number of families, as I recall only one of the families is LDS. The other families are Catholic, Baptist, Jewish, etc. The story of the LDS family, as well as stories of families from other faiths, are told in phases – by rotating interviews as each family comes to terms with their loved one. It’s really well done….and the LDS family represents charity in an incredible, articulate way.

  20. Eugene says:

    Matt, my wife asks: How do you mean “that committed gay marriage is…possibly even a boon to traditional heterosexual marriage”? In what way can it be a “boon”?

  21. Joe Geisner says:


    I really don’t have any answers to your questions. I would like to say that I think you did a great thing when you spoke with Jennifer and shared your feelings about the letter and your confusion on why the church has gotten involved to this extent.

    I will be curious what happens in Southern California since it is quite conservative compared to us Northern Californians. My wife and I have attended church very little since Prop 22 and I refuse to give any money to the church for their political stance on this issue. My guess is that there will be little pressure and little political involvement by most members here in the north. Those who were very political last time in support for Prop. 22 have all moved to Utah (thank goodness) so I will be surprised if my own ward does much. Please keep us up-to-date about what is happening in SoCal. I know you father was very involved in support of Prop. 22, has he made public his stance this time?

  22. Joe Geisner says:


    I don’t think this is what you are asking. But I know for us NoCal’s the legalization of same sex marriage has and will bring in tens of millions of dollars to the Bay Area. So, yes it sure helps us heterosexual marrieds by bringing in all that revenue, specially since we are looking at a eleven billion dollar deficit for our state budget.

    My guess is that Matt meant that stability in families is always good for society. When ninety plus percent of the children who grow up in same sex families are heterosexual and can marry in any state it seems to me that we would want these children to grow up in stable and committed homes as their example.

  23. Ann says:

    Wonderful post, Matt. For your bishop’s own enjoyment, you might want to recommend Carol Lynn Pearson’s “No More Goodbyes.”

    Yesterday during sacrament meeting when I should have been listening to stories about girl’s camp, I read Galatians instead. Then last night on BCC I read a post about encouraging political action without getting into politics. I thought of the scripture I’d just read earlier that morning:

    And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.

    I understand that the only specific course of action Peter, James and John gave to Paul as he was about to resume his ministry was to remember the poor. I considered this in light of Jesus’s comment that we will always have the poor with us. This lines up most excellently with the call to action Menlove gives and that you echo here. We will have the poor with us always – yet we should work to help the poor.

    Your actions may not have any noticeable effect, but they will affect you, because you will have acted. If you feel called to act, then you should.

  24. Matt Thurston says:

    Eugene, Joe’s got the right idea.

    Why do we encourage our young men and women to marry? There are myriad reasons, but the basic premise is that the benefits of marriage and a committed relationship ostensibly outweigh the benefits of living alone, both for the individual self and for the community.

    When we marginalize people, when we tell them they are wicked, evil, somehow “less than”, especially if they internalize these feelings as children and teens, the result is often self-loathing, self-contempt, etc. For gays, this sometimes means acting out, destructive promiscuity, creating a vicious sin/shame spiral. We should be encouraging them to form stable, lasting unions.

    Instead of denying them membership to the club, we should be welcoming them with open arms.

    “Marriage” as an institution would be infinitely better off if we held it as the ideal or goal for all people, not just heterosexuals.

    Finally, if we were to take a poll of all gays, I think we’d find a strong correlation between each individuals degree of happiness, self-worth, and self-esteem and the kind of environment he or she was raised in — from open, loving, and accepting, on one end of the spectrum, to closed, shameful, and judgemental on the other. Unfortunately, I think we’d also find that a high percentage of the closed, shameful, and judgemental environments were also highly religious environments.

    I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument for the negative things that would happen to society if we allowed gays to marry… well, except for this one, which I just saw at MoHoHawaii’s blog. Hilarious!

  25. Thanks, Joe (#22). Unfortunately, most of my interview with Jennifer Dobner of the AP was left on the cutting room floor. What did make the article seems a little random and out of context. Oh well.

    As for my father, he can speak for himself. I’ll just say that I don’t know if he supported Prop 22 in 2000 or not, but I don’t think he’d mind if I said that he is now supportive of Gay Marriage (and has been for awhile, as far as I know) and against the current proposition (Prop 8, by the way). He said as much recently in a public forum of mostly Mormons.

  26. Joe Geisner says:


    I apologize. I confused your Dad with Russ Frandsen, all you SoCal people look alike.:-)
    Your Dad sounds like a wonderful person.

    I am serious, I would like to hear what your take is on the church involvement in SoCal as time passes and if I hear anything about what happens up here I will let the blog know.

  27. Frankie says:

    Hi all. I’m Frankie. I’m 26. I’m a gay Mormon. My partner Tripp and I are enjoying our fifth year together. Sometimes I worry that we all get caught up in the bigness of these issues and forget that there are individuals behind the opinions on both sides of the debate. We’re so busy insisting on what we believe that we sometimes forget that each one of us believes what he or she believes for specific, experiential reasons. We all have stories. I’d like to encourage us to share them.

    Tripp is my soul mate, my best friend, and my life?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s love. We want to start a family. We are committed to being excellent fathers. In our city, there are thousands of children currently growing up without any parents at all. Older children and teenagers, especially, often slip through the system without ever finding a permanent placement. Tripp and I want to help these children because we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re concerned for them and for our society as a whole. We believe that the best way we can help them is to adopt them and to form a permanent family. Like you, we believe in the institution of marriage and how important it is for children to have married parents. This is why we want to get married.

    That’s it. We don’t want to change the definition of marriage. We just want a family that is supported by this amazing institution.

    It saddens me that many people feel they need to defend marriage from Tripp and I. I don’t feel like a threat. I feel like marriage’s biggest advocate. I LOVE marriage and all that it stands for.

    To all those who are working to ban gay marriage in California, I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d like to offer myself as a friend and an ally. No, I don’t want to ban gay marriage. But I do want to protect marriage and families. I think that family is the most important thing any of us can have. That’s why I’m working so hard to build one with Tripp. You and I may have different short term goals, but I really do believe we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re all vying for the same thing in the end. I hope that like all allies we can keep the doors of communication open throughout the summer and deep into our combined futures.

  28. Brad says:

    My sense is that there are still many (perhaps most?) Mormons who are not aware or sensitive to the difficult path of gay members, especially those who desire to remain active. I am especially troubled by the potential estrangement of youth who may be recognizing their own sexual orientation as being outside of what the church considers acceptable. In this case, the church being the local church where homosexuality may be spoken of with fear, prejudice, and an inordinate amount of condemnation.

    I think an important component of “Compassion in Action” is the willingness to stand up and say something that affirms compassion and understanding. Perhaps as a Church we can eventually talk about homosexuality in a compassionate manner without always prefacing it with how much God loathes the practice. I hear way too much Us vs. Them (the world, gays, wicked judges, false religions, etc. etc.) in my So Cal ward.

  29. Suzanne Neilsen says:

    Same sex marriage was a boon to heterosexual marriage. Read a kinda interesting book, Between Women by Sharon Marcus. She looks at victorian woman in England, and in part of the book(ok the chapters I enjoyed) and shows that woman in same sex marriages influenced the reformation of marriage law. So when you start singing the praises of your marriage, be sure to thank 19th century lesbians.

  30. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìOnce you open the door for homosexuals, you MUST open it for other alternative forms of marriage. To say otherwise would be pure hypocrisy.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù
    That depends on how the door for homosexuals was opened.

    If it was opened by a decree from an autocrat, a bill from a legislature, or an initiative from the voters, then the door does not have to be opened for other alternatives at all . It all depends on the whims of those who make the law.

    Court decisions are another matter. Courts rely on reasoning and precedent and the laws. A future court may use a court ruling to justify opening the door for other forms of marriage.

  31. Michael says:

    Terrific post, Matt. I hope it goes well with your bishop friend. I second the suggestion to give a copy of Carol Lynn Pearson’s book. It is compassionate and helps to put a human face on the issues. Too often, attitudes don’t change until we see that they are real people rather than abstractions.

  32. Matt Thurston says:

    Frankie (#28), Thank you for sharing your story. I believe it will be personal stories like yours that ultimately turn the tide for Gays in the church. We are a storytelling people. It is sometimes said that Mormons don’t have a theology, instead Mormons have “history”. And history is story. Mormon testimony seems to come from the personal stories we tell each other. The First Vision was the original “personal story.” And every Fast Sunday we take turns telling our own personal stories.

    Based on their comments, it sounds like Brad (#29) and Michael (#32) would agree.

    Shelly M., Twisting? On the contrary, “I glory in plainness” (2 Nephi 33:6) 🙂

  33. Eugene says:

    Joe #23: I like your guess in interpreting Matt #25 “…stability in families is always good for society.” I wholeheartedly agree, whether that stability is in heterosexual, gay or polygamous families.

    Would you go that far, Matt? You can hardly confess to “impotence” now, after 35 lively and interesting responses to your compassionate action in positioning yourself atop the wall to take on these slings and arrows. I’m proud of you and this great exchange!

  34. diehardmoderate says:

    I appreciated the open-hearted posting by Frankie about his life with Tripp, and the many conscientious thoughts from Shelly M. and Eugene.

    I’ve read the letter from Church headquarters dated 6/20/08 that Matt references in his original post, and for me the crux of my concern is the balance of power between the sovereignty of the CA voters versus the will/veto power of the CA Supreme Court.

    Lately I’ve been feeling like a lot of the Positive Productive Intellectualism that often resides in this community, in several other neo-Liberal secular forums, and that lurks on the periphery of many local LDS units is (unfortunately) increasingly politically impotent compared to the louder, better connected, better funded, higher-profile special interests groups who live at the political extremes.

    I feel like these extreme ideologues with their funding and networks are the ones who are steering much of the information dissemination on this and other hot political issues. And I’m beginning to feel like my priority as a Christian intellectual is to resist the propaganda generated and distributed by either far-left or far-right extreme.

    For me, the pressing issues surrounding same-sex legislation is more about “doing no harm” than about who is more or less cosmically justified under God or rhetorically validated by Biblical text.

    For me, my stance on any particular same-sex legislation has all to do with the fine print attached to the actual bill/proposition at hand, and often the fine print of any law develops over time and can’t be foreseen or controlled by directly by the voters down the road.

    From the 6/20 letter, it also feels like the First Pres is concerned with/against readjusting the legal term of “marriage” to include non-heterosexual partnerships. From that document, I don’t get the clear feeling that our church’s offical stance is associated with denying same-sex couples the legal benefits that come with being legally married. It seems like the ideological revision against the will of the CA voters as reflected in the 2000 vote is the Church’s main concern.

    My bottom line for the moment:
    I think we need legislation that takes this whole issue outside the booby-trapped box that we’re all thrashing around in. We need to rethink the needs of the America people– gay and straight alike– and figure out legal terminology and public policy that fits the current needs and reaches for more harmony and less harm.

  35. Ryan Jentzsch says:

    Here’s what is plain:

    A living prophet has said “The teaching and positions on this moral issue are unequivocal.”

    Matt, it seems that you strongly disagree, and to assert your position you try to twist what was read from the pulpit as some type of gay-hate literature implying that this somehow harms gay men and women.

    Christ showed the ultimate example on how to handle this situation when he was presented with the adulterous woman; when her accusers had all left due to their own guilt (unable to ‘cast the first stone’); Christ said to the woman: “Go thy way and sin no more.” He didn’t say “Committing adultery is no longer a tenet of my religion, so go thy way, it is no longer a sin.”

    I have thought of this story and put a gay man in the position of the adulterous woman — It provides a Christlike perspective on the gay issue or any issue that is a sin in the eyes of God.

    Matt, you asked the question:
    “So how can an Active Mormon who values his or her membership in the church, but who also supports the rights of gays to marry, show compassion with action?”

    My answer is this: By your example teach people in your ward and in the world to hate the sin and love the sinner.

    Your going to your bishop and sharing your concerns and giving him materials to help gay members of his ward is a good thing, and I think perhaps the beginning of the answer to your own question.

  36. Matt Thurston says:

    Thanks, Eugene (#35). Are you going to the Symposium this year?

    diehardmoderate (#36), I think you make some good, moderate points. But I think the church is a little more than just worried about “ideological revision,” don’t you think? I think they see any official sanction of gay unions, whether such a union is called “marriage” or not, as detrimental to our society, period.

    Ryan (#37), If only life were so simple that God always passed along his word and will unfettered to his one true and living Prophet, and all of the earth’s inhabitants could drink from this fountain of pure knowledge like my wife drinks from the teat of the Coca-Cola corporation. 🙂

    Alas, life is not so simple. Very few of the earth’s inhabitants are as confident as you are in the unequivocal advice of the living prophet. Many of these people also communicate with God, and God has told them something else.

    And even many of those who recognize and accept him as a prophet, myself included, do so with a broader and nuanced understanding of prophetic . Mormon History is replete with examples of prophets saying something unequivocal, that turned out to not be so unequivocal. And the shifting nature or definition of “sin” has an equally colorful track record.

    Ultimately though, this is about personal revelation and conscience. So as someone else recently said, “I guess my feeling is that if we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re always supposed to agree with what our leaders say, what?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s the point of having personal revelation?”

  37. Eugene says:

    Matt #38: Symposium? Yes; am presenting a paper asking: “Did Joseph Smith know himself?” responding to Harold Bloom’s last question in his March 2007 Sunstone essay. It will consider Jung’s concept of the “shadow” applied not only to Joseph, but also to “The people of the Book” in today’s broadband Mormon culture and society. You are welcome to come and hold my feet to the fire!

  38. anon - says:

    What part of being an Active Mormon don’t you understand? The bretheren have spoken on this issue and if you believe they are led by God, and desire to follow God, you should fall in line.

    I know it might seem fun to sit around and think of all the intellectual/theological gray zones and/or otherwise take exception to or otherwise subvert their clear directives. It might seem especially fun to espouse a seemingly compassionate viewpoint at the expense of complete allegiance to church declarations to impress friends and neighbors. I am not accusing you of that – I am just saying I’ve played devils advocate with my friends who either act or are unquestioningly obedient (add tons of adjs: philosophically illiterate, conservative, republican, byu(ish), straight, white, wealthy, etc. etc.)

    But at some point, don’t you just have to say you are ON or OFF the bus? With them or against them?

    I’ve probably wasted a year of my life living and dying over the apparent social, theological, and historical complexities of the church– marveling that the church may not be exactly what it claims to be– relishing in those spaces between faith and skepticism– being neither cold nor hot, (or perhaps both cold and hot for a net lukewarm) in my allegiance to the LDS Church. But from my experience, it is no wonder that this condition is equated with vomit: it implies one has attempted to eat and digest something that one’s body can’t use.

    In small a way, I guess I respect people who have bailed on the church over this issue because they understand something that you apparently don’t: you cannot truly, in the final analysis, be, as you say, “An Active Mormon who supports gay rights.”

    If you’ve made it this far, I do have a non-rhetorical (though hypothetical) question for anyone who cares to answer:

    If you could completely eliminate all homosexual tendencies from the face of the earth just by wishing it, would you?

    Hopefully any perceived brashness in my comments won’t prevent you from answering.

  39. Mary in Northern Utah says:


    Thank you for your post. My feelings echo your own and I am seeking to find my voice in this matter. Please keep posting.

  40. Rick Jepson says:

    anon, do you really believe that everyone in Mormonism should think/believe/feel the exact same way? That people who disagree with you need to get off the bus?

    If you could, would you make everyone in the church agree with you just by wishing it?

    That’s dangerous stuff.

    If I’d been an adult in the pre-1978 church, I would have disagreed with the church’s racist ban….and I would have been proved right. How can you be sure that I’m wrong now to support gay marriage? And how can you dare tell me that I need to leave the church because we disagree on this? What pretention!

  41. Rick Jepson says:

    Matt, thanks for your thoughtful post. And thanks for not wanting either to sit still or to stand up and walk out….neither of which does any good. I too often button up and keep quiet because I trully hate making waves. I appreciate your thoughtful, supportive approach…..and I’m inspired by it to try to find my own way.

    Tough, tough problem.

    I’m glad I happened to work this sunday and wasn’t at church.

  42. Thanks, Rick.

    Anon (#40), so the only choices I have are to: 1.) Get in line; or 2.) Leave? Get on or get off the bus? I once wrote a post where I phrased it a little more colorfully: sh*t or get off the pot.

    I don’t know, but such a stance feels inimical to the plan of salvation, to the whole idea of growing line upon line.

  43. Eugene says:

    Anon #40, you ask: “If you could completely eliminate all homosexual tendencies from the face of the earth just by wishing it, would you?”

    My answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT! Were this to happen the world would be hopelessly impoverished in unthinkable ways. The loss of such great musical works of Tchaikovsky, as well as the genius creations of Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo leap into my mind. The blossoming creative life of my youngest, immensely talented and intelligent gay son come next, whom I talked to just this Fourth of July morning, as he joyfully thrives in the exciting musical paradise of the Chataqua music camp, rubbing shoulders and learning from world class artistic geniuses, many of whom are gay. How can you possibly be so narrow and ignorant of such historic artistic blessings? I dare add that my last question applies also to the “Proclamation”, which is the antecedent of this thread and which both misunderstands and misrepresents the wholesome spiritual purpose of gender and family both in this life AND the afterlife.

  44. Trying to be Fair says:

    This morning I received an e-mail from a friend holding an important position in the Church with a flyer attached titled ?¢‚Ǩ?ì10 Reasons to Protect California?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Marriage Law with a Constitutional Amendment.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù It was put out by an organization called ?¢‚Ǩ?ìFamily Leader,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù which appears to be headed up by members of the Church. In my opinion, a more dishonest piece of propaganda would be hard to find.

    Because I served a mission in Norway, my friend called my attention to Reason # 2, which is as follows:

    ?¢‚Ǩ?ìChildren Pay a High Price if Marriage is Not Protected: In 1993 Norway legalized domestic partnerships. Now the average out of wedlock birthrate in Norway is a staggering 60 percent and in some areas it is as high as 80 percent. Here in the United States, one-third of children are born out of wedlock. Decades of social science and government data are absolutely conclusive that overall children have the best physical, cognitive and social outcomes when raised in a home by a married mother and father in a low conflict marriage.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    Am I the only one who thinks it is ludicrous to blame the out-of-wedlock births in Norway on gay marriage? The Scandinavian countries have always had a relaxed view of sexual matters?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùanyone who has ever traveled there knows that. When I was on my mission in Norway decades ago it was common for young people to live together and bear children before deciding to get married. Heck, my own Norwegian g-g-grandmother had her first child out of wedlock and was five months pregnant with her second before she got married, and that was in 1810! How poorly did her children fare? Her son immigrated to America, joined the Mormon Church, and trekked across the plains with the pioneers, so you be the judge.

    The ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdomestic partnerships?¢‚Ǩ¬ù that are legal in Norway are both heterosexual and homosexual partnerships. Guess which ones produce the most ?¢‚Ǩ?ìout-of-wedlock?¢‚Ǩ¬ù children?

    I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m not gay and I am an active member of the Church. I wish my Church would focus its energies on heterosexual promiscuity, which is a far greater problem than gay marriage, and stop the anti-gay propaganda. I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m not going to support the constitutional amendment and I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m not going to let people like anon drive me out of the Church. I have no desire to embarrass the Church, but I do not plan to toe the line on this one. For me, standing up for our gay brothers and sisters who want to form a lasting relationship it is an issue of fundamental fairness?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùa moral issue.

  45. Rick Jepson says:


    Good to see your post, dear friend. You are right that the Proclomation has much to do with this. I’m interested in your view of it, especially in its treatment of gender.

    The truth seems to be that gender is a continuum rather than a concrete, dichotomous, eternal designation. I don’t know that there’s any accurate definition of “maleness” or “femaleness” that doesn’t have gaping holes in it. If you attempt to define it biologically, psychologically, socially, etc., the exceptions are too weighty for anything like our traditional understanding. That makes our allegiance to the Proclomation a bit problematic.

    But I feel the same way as TryingtobeFair: I don’t want to emberass or attack the church. And I certainly don’t want to leave it or be shunned from it (sorry to disapoint, anon).

    I want to find some way to be faithful, supportive, and active while still defending the shunned and while still being true to my own self.

    Perhaps not easy, but worship without sacrifice is a deadly sin.

  46. Dr JB in WI says:


    I appreciated your thoughtful and courageous analysis of this difficult situation. Sometimes I feel like I am the only person in my ward who is uncomfortable with the social positions the church takes so it was a relief to hear you so eloquently express some of my own thoughts.

    There is something we can do that will cause the church to notice. It wouldn’t actually change anything unless a large number of members did the same thing, which they won’t. We could stop paying tithing and make it clear to our leaders why we have stopped. After the Feb, 2008 Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting talks I was sufficiently upset with the direction the church is going that I resolved to stop paying tithing until the church becomes more enlightened on the status of women and gays. (I’m female and have a teenage daughter as well as sons.) Of course, this will cost me my temple recommend. But I cannot sit silently by and be a passive participant in injustice. If I’m not part of the solution, then, by default, I’m part of the problem. I refuse to finanacially support an organization that bashes gays and subordinates women. I now donate ten percent of my income to food shelters and other humanitarian agencies that don’t have an anti-female, anti-gay agenda.

    Dr JB in WI

  47. Eugene says:

    Friend Rick #47:

    Here is a more profound “proclamation” (notice lower case p) from my beloved and wise wife, who was eager to read your response to my #45: “All this stuff [blog posting] is just a bunch of mental gymnastics,” she said, “What really counts is action, either from love or fear!”

    Dare I dispute this? Of course not! Even so, I still have more to add to this “stuff”, worthwhile or not.

    I agree with you that “gender is a continuum rather than a concrete, dichotomous, eternal designation.” When we discuss male/female vs masculine/feminine issues, we need to be careful that we differentiate physical from spiritual (including psychological/emotional) realities. Just a day or so ago, a “man” (who was born female) gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Perhaps you saw their story on TV? “He” and his wife will now raise their child in a committed family environment with male and female parents. I applaud their courage in publically sharing the reality of their life and views and envy the baby for choosing such committed, courageous parents. (Their first pregnancy ended in miscarriage.) It will be interesting to track their lives.

    Back to your “continuum”. Yes, I believe we all have the complete continuum within us individually, only part of which we are conscious of in any given life-time on the path of eternal progression. Does that sound like reincarnation to you? It was meant to be. This became an issue for me only when I had a dream in 1964, where I dreamed of being a beautiful woman. This was a great surprise, but it began a process of reflection and introspection such as I had never before attempted. It also upset a comfortable, well respected and confident professional career as a physical scientist, as well as family and church relationships. The path of introspection and self-knowledge is loaded with hazards, as well as wonderful rewards!

    Please come to my upcoming symposium presentation this year and we can continue this discussion. You can hold my feet to the fire along with Matt!

  48. Eugene says:

    PS for Rick #47: What could you possibly mean by “worship without sacrifice is a deadly sin”?

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