A Mormon friend of mine recently shared this article with me and asked me for my thoughts on the matter. The title of the article is "Homosexual Thoughts and Feelings Not a Sin, Says New LDS Handbook." Apparently new handbooks are being distributed to church leaders which now instruct them not to discipline gay Mormons for their thoughts and feelings. The following was my response:
As Joanna Brooks points out in her article, the revisions do indicate a tiny bit of progress. She seems to think the new handbook will give hope to gay LDS youth, since it decriminalizes (in "spiritual" terms... which to me is a cruel oxymoron) their human impulse to love and share their lives with someone. The paradigm, however, remains firmly intact, and this is a paradigm in which gay people can have no hope whatsoever for finding love, companionship and fulfillment... at least in this life, which let's be honest: this life is the only one we can be sure about.
So while Marvin K. Jensen can be "sorry" about the damage his church did to thousands of families during Prop 8 (and I don't doubt that he is), and while Mormon leaders can be encouraged to feel "sorry" for the gay members of their wards instead of fearing and ostracizing them, the sympathy we're talking about here is ostensibly back-handed and condescending. While it's nice that now they're being instructed to put on soft gloves, they are still punching impressionable gay youth in the face.
While I can appreciate their slow, gradual efforts to tone down the hysteria and cruelty of their anti-gay rhetoric in an attempt to deal with the decades-long epidemic of Mormon youth suicides, the fact remains that if you ingrain into someone's mind that somehow their human impulse to find love and companionship is immoral, then you leave them with very little to live for. While I'm sure that NOT reading in official church literature that they are "latter-day lepers" or that it "were better [they were] never born" can only help lessen the blow to gay youth, the message is still clear: everyone else's need for love is legitimate and godly. Your need for love, however, is an abomination. In order to be acceptable to God, you need to resign yourself to a long life of solitude and self-loathing, and if you're lucky, we'll even give you a church calling like a "normal" person! See how loving and accepting we are [smiley face / most fervent attempt at a Christ-like countenance]?
So, progress? A little, I guess, but extremely minimal. Warm, furry gloves on a dogmatic fist. Hope for gay youth and suicide rates? Again: minimal. With such an ultraconservative crowd (referring to Mormon leadership, although it is having to become more moderate to remain relevant), I'll take every millimeter I can get, but these cosmetic "changes" do very little to solve the problem. If anything, they only help the LDS church look more politically correct on paper, and I think that's really what it comes down to, although it is nice to see some debate going on within the Mormon hierarchy about the gay "problem" (remind me again why love should be viewed as a problem?). Mormon institutional perceptions of gay people are deeply rooted in not one, but two deep-running anchors in Mormon culture: puritanism (which demonizes human sexuality in general, making sexual diversity all the more offensive) and sexism (if gender didn't matter, they'd have no reason for denying women the priesthood). But that's a whole different essay I have tucked away, and you didn't ask me about that. :-)
Suffice it to say, I don't see much light at the end of this tunnel. Gay Mormons are going to have jump ship if they are looking for hope and love. If they can survive on compassion alone, then I guess the forecast is a little more optimistic now.