Thursday, May 6, 2010
When I spoke with Michael about Christ and the Church, his feelings were dominated by his thoughts as a youth growing up in the Church and the guilt of his behaviour and thoughts. From as early as five he realised that he found men more interesting than women. He said he knew that sneaking a peak of men while in change rooms as a kid was inappropriate, but he found it intriguing and exciting.
As a 13 year old he connected his masturbation and thoughts of men and believed this was something he shouldn’t do. The guilt of masturbation was enough, but to combine this with his thoughts of men and thinking he was the only man in the Church who masturbated, came together to place a great deal of stress on a young boy who should be enjoying all the happiness that comes from being a kid.
Like most boys that age, I was masturbating more often than not. To stop that behaviour when I joined the Church was incredibly difficult. Let’s just say I never really succeeded. One of the most humiliating things I’ve ever done was to confess to my Missionary Training Centre (MTC) President, that I masturbated. He was kind and counseled me with strategies to avoid such behaviour in the future. The mind and soul were willing but the body was weak. Of the 35,000 plus Elders serving in the Church in the early 1990’s I’m confident I was not alone in my struggle.
I think it’s important to point out why I felt compelled to confess my behaviour to the MTC President. I had decided to serve a mission, I’d prayed about that and knew it was something I had a responsibility to do. During the MTC training, a teacher presented a class on the need to be “clean” and “worthy” to “bear the vessels of the Lord”. Repentance, and where appropriate confession, had to take place before getting into the mission field.
You could argue my confession was perhaps partial, however I had not been involved in any homosexual behaviour at this point. My mind was a playground of ideas and thoughts that hadn’t turned to behaviour, except for masturbation. So, I chose to confess that one point.
Michael was aware that his masturbation required confession, but he was unsure about where that information would go. Would the Bishop tell his parents, would the Stake President find out? He didn’t want either of these things to happen. His other concern was that his masturbation was connected to his thoughts of men and he didn’t want to share that with anyone as a teenager.
Such burdens of guilt, feeling unclean, unworthy or even does not create an environment for a child or teenager to really understand or learn of the love of the Saviour. I learnt that many of the men I spoke to felt little of the love the scriptures speak of. The teachings of Church leaders and family suggested their feelings were sinful and in their most aggressive, sinful.
In an address to the Church at the October 2009 Worldwide General Conference, Elder Oaks counseled parents with wayward children as follows:
“If parents have a wayward child—such as a teenager indulging in alcohol or drugs—they face a serious question. Does parental love require that these substances or their consumption be allowed in the home, or do the requirements of civil law or the seriousness of the conduct or the interests of other children in the home require that this be forbidden?
To pose an even more serious question, if an adult child is living in cohabitation, does the seriousness of sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage require that this child feel the full weight of family disapproval by being excluded from any family contacts, or does parental love require that the fact of cohabitation be ignored? I have seen both of these extremes, and I believe that both are inappropriate.”
For those members of the Church who choose to exclude a gay child from the family, this counsel from Elder Oaks states clearly such behaviour is inappropriate for an LDS family. He goes on to say:
“Where do parents draw the line? That is a matter for parental wisdom, guided by the inspiration of the Lord. There is no area of parental action that is more needful of heavenly guidance or more likely to receive it than the decisions of parents in raising their children and governing their families. This is the work of eternity.
As parents grapple with these problems, they should remember the Lord’s teaching that we leave the ninety and nine and go out into the wilderness to rescue the lost sheep. President Thomas S. Monson has called for a loving crusade to rescue our brothers and sisters who are wandering in the wilderness of apathy or ignorance. These teachings require continued loving concern, which surely requires continued loving associations.”