Q: First of let's talk about Evergreen, why it was created and who it serves? And why is there a need for it?
A: Evergreen was founded in 1989. This is our 10th anniversary year. It was founded by individuals who were dealing with erotic feelings of same sex attraction in their own lives. Most of them were return missionaries who came back from their missions, realized they were dealing with some feeling that were not congruent with their values. They wanted to figure out how to deal with those feelings and what they can do about them. They went to the church, and went to social services and other organizations.
And while they were met with a great deal of sympathy there was no organization to help them; in fact, there was very little knowledge, at that point, even of what could or might be done. And so, they began by helping one and other in a support group, by meeting together regularly, and looking for information. It's now grown through that process to where it's an information- and referral education-type of organization. So, people call in literally from all around the world. I was just working in fact with some people in the United Kingdom, in England just this week, who are working there to set up some support groups, information, and help for Latter-Day Saints who live in the United Kingdom.
Q: So, you're not just for return missionaries?
A:Oh no, no absolutely not. Men and women, their parents, ecclesiastical leaders, and therapists. We serve the whole community who may be dealing with individuals who are dealing with either homosexual behavior or same sex attraction feelings.
Q: What is your connection to the LDS church? Are you run by the church?
A: We're not. Evergreen International is a non-profit organization, which, within its mission statement, chooses to affiliate itself with the doctrine and standards of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. But, it exists as an independent organization outside of the church. In effect, we choose to affiliate ourselves with the church's standards and doctrines. The church doesn't affiliate itself with any organization that is not a church organization. And so, Evergreen operates independently of the church.
Q: Talk to me about the official stand of the LDS church towards homosexuality.
A: The official stand of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in relationship to homosexuality is simply the same as it is towards any other sexual conduct. It says the only sexual relationships that are approved of by the Lord are those that are between a man and a woman who are married to one and other. Therefore anything that falls outside of that category, anything that falls outside of those parameters, is not acceptable. And so, the way they tend to deal with the concept of homosexuality is to say that it falls outside of those standards.
The feelings, the church has been very clear, of the first presidency has been very clear. That the feelings that we have and not sinful. They are just the feelings that we have. There is no sin associated with the fact that sometimes we feel angry, but if we pick up a stick and knock our neighbor in the head when they infuriate us.
We have now moved from a feeling that we had, that we need to work with, over to into a behavior that we have that is unacceptable. And the same thing would be true with feelings of same sex attractions. Having the feeling of being attracted erotically to a member of your own gender is not sinful. The problem is if we act upon those feelings and we become involved in homosexual behaviors. Those behaviors then, violate the doctrines and standards of the church, and therefore they're unacceptable.
Q:Given that, you know there are multiple conflicting studies on the subject of where homosexuality is in fact in born. As a clinician, a professional treating people, as well as a church member, what do you believe?
A: First of all, the standards of the church and the doctrines of the church aren't altered by temporary scientific information anyway. So, one thing I want to be fully clear about is that the introduction of new information is interesting and helpful to those of us who are involved in this professionally.
I don't believe that the standards and doctrines of the church will ever change. But, let me go on to say, from that that I believe that there is no authoritative, there's no data that justify the concept that this is geneticaly based. That there is a difference between saying that there are influences that we bring into our lives with us, that may…change, alter, influence the way we handle certain types of issues in our lives. But, but there is no genetic basis for this whatsoever.
Therefore, that argument in my opinion is specious and in fact I don't find that there is a single legitimate geneticist is this country anywhere that would validate that. Columbia University did a study of all the studies available, that have ever been done on this issue. And Columbia University, that liberal institution, you know, in New York City, said very clearly that there is no genetic evidence whatsoever.
Q: Let's back up a bit. As you understand it what is the official stance of the church.
A: The official stand of the church is that the only acceptable sexual relationships are between a husband and a wife within the bonds of marriage, of matrimony. Anything that falls outside of that, any behaviors that falls outside of that are unacceptable. They violate the standard and doctrines of the church.
Now that doesn't mean that feeling that we have are in and of themselves sinful, because they are not. The church has been very clear about that. The first presidency has written on that extensively. Sometimes I feel angry, feelings are just my feelings. But if I pick up a stick and knock my neighbor in the head then I behaved in a way that's unacceptable. But behavior was the sin, the feelings were not. They were just my feelings. Feeling erotically attracted to a person of my own gender is not a sin, acting out of those feelings that is inappropriate and that's what becomes the nature of sin in the minds and eyes of the church.
Q:I allude to the fact that there are a lot of studies that contradict each other on this issue. As a clinician and as a church member, what do you believe?
A: First of all, I think it's important to understand that the doctrines and standards of the church don't change because of scientific studies. That doesn't mean that as a member of the church I'm not excited and interested in all the studies that are being done and the research that's being looked into. But I don't believe that anything that we study or come about through our temporary knowledge on scientific concepts will change the doctrine of the church in the long run. But that being said, let me also say very clearly, that there is no evidence at this point that there is any genetic basis for homosexuality or being attracted to a person of your same gender. None whatsoever. Why do I say that? Even the studies that have been done that are interesting have never been able to be duplicate in any way. For a concept to become scientifically accepted, for even the simplest um, cure to be put forward for a drug, the simplest of research that's being done at any level.
Once someone says, yes I think I have something that affects something else, that then is duplicated in blind studies over and over and over again before anybody in the scientific community begins to accepts that as being a valid concept. No ah, research study that links homosexuality to genetics has ever been duplicated by anyone other than the original person who put forward the idea. Does that mean that they never will be? I don't know and I hope they continue the research and continue the study. Because the more we know, the better off we all are. The better we'll know how to deal with and work through this problem. But that does not change the basis of the doctrines of the church.
Q: If the research was duplicated, hypothetically, would it change the perspective?
A: No, no. That's what I am saying, I don't think it would matter. There have been some studies that suggest for example, that alcoholism in and of itself may have some kind of genetic predeterminant. Now, that is almost as unclear as every other genetic predeterminant. But, there is more information and more research done around that than there has been in most other areas of genetics. That will not change the standard of the ability of individuals to make choices in their lives as to how they'll behave in relationship in response to that data and information. And so, I don't believe it will affect anything whatsoever. But I think it's interesting. I think it's important to look at. Obviously, I think the Lord gave us a mind to grow and to learn and to study. And there's nothing wrong with that process of, looking into and trying to understand better why it is that we are affected by different things in our lives and why our behaviors might be influenced by different factors.
Q: So when you counsel people or when people come to Evergreen is the foundation of that counseling then that they have a choice?
A: Absolutely, absolutely. We believe that people have the right and the ability to able to choose to live a life that's consistent with their values. And so, we don't proselytize, we're not out to recruit individuals. We simply try to make clear the message to Latter Day Saints that the doctrines and standards of the Church can be adhered toand tat there is nothing that the Lord has asked us to do that we can not accomplish if we so desire. And our job is to help individuals live a life that they choose that is congruent with the values that they have selected.
Q: So, how does that process work? If I were to come to you and say I have problems with same sex attraction and am a member of the church? Tell me briefly about that process. How does the religious and spiritual component also add into it?
A: When a person seeks out help through Evergreen, Evergreen is basically an information and educational organization so, we do not provide therapy; what we do is try to connect people with the resources they need in their lives to be successful. We get them to support groups, we involve them with qualified therapists and we try to make sure that they have information. We have an extensive bookstore and library. And we try to make sure that they have the information and knowledge that they need.
But we also try to
help reconnect them if they have lost the connection or encourage a strengthened
connection with the spiritual in their life. That is done through individual
wards and stakes through their proper priesthood leaders. We don't try
to replace that in their life. We simply try to help to give them the
courage and the strength to reach back into the normal church organization
and take advantage of that spiritual strength that's available there for
I believe that a spiritual
component is tremendously helpful to any challenge you're facing in life.
Because I am a spiritual person, obviously if that was something that
wasn't important in your life then that component, that tool just isn't
going to be available to you. I know people who are working with this
issue all over the United States who have a variety of religious backgrounds.
I also know people who have been very successfully treated who have no
spiritual background whatsoever.
Q: As a therapist can you tell me about that process? A little bit about how you would counsel someone? People are curious about that process. Also when I think of it, the word "reparative therapy" comes to mind. Do you use that therapy?
A: I never even use that terminology. "Reparative therapy" was a term coined by Joseph Nicholosi, who does psychodynamic and psychotherapeutic processes, and you know these are Freudian and Jungian type of conceptsand others that have obviously come out as the history of that has developed. But, it very much depends upon a concept of subconscious motivations and and a often times sexually subconscious motivations which many of us don't adhere to at all. But the reality is that within the world of counseling there are many models that people use.
Evergreen in and of itself does not endorse a model or particular way of working with individuals. We simply know that each individual who may be working with each counselor through their process of training and education and work has developed their own methods of working with people. And many of those styles are very effective. So, we don't get into the process of trying to, trying to sort that. So, on that level that's one thing.
If you asking on a second level, what it is that I tend to look at when I am working with people, my background is much more sociological and much more social psychology than it is based in psychoanalytic type of theories which I don't tend to use at all. I tend to use much more rational concepts about what is it that we wish to do, why is it that we don't do the things that we would like to do, and what is blocking us from being able to do those types of things.
And so, my processes are very cognitive and very much rooted in the concept that these are learned behaviors. I believe at the core that you are no more born homosexual than you are born heterosexual. In other words, weren't not born heterosexual either. I, extend that same concept in both directions. That our sexuality is something that we learn, it is a learned behavior, it came about through the developmental process.
And in a normal situation when all things go well and we are raised in a home with a mother and a father someone we model, someone of same gender who we can model our behavior after. And someone of our opposite gender who we can then reflect that behavior back to and hopefully receive approval from that process. In other words, I learned to be a man from my father. I learned it was allright to be a man, it was acceptable to be a man by the way my mother treated me, the way she treated my brothers and the way she treated my father. And if my mother reflects back that being male is something that is positive and acceptable maybe a little unusual but to women. In other words, we are always intrigued by the fact that we are not alike that we really are different.
But, the point is that my mother reflects back, I don't totally understand men, you know those men they're kind of different than the women but, they're nice we like them, we think that it's neat to be you know, so as they reflect that positive prospect back I learn that healthily from my father, than that's how my sexuality becomes develops and comes through a process of that.
And obviously there
are some things that take place hormonally at certain points in our lives.
There's interaction with our peers, and many other things that affect
that. But, I believe that that is much more a basis, that through the
whole process the healthy development of sexuality comes about by the
way we are raised and the way we develop. Not by something that happens
to us in a genetic or biological way.
In other words I believe the growth stopped. That what happened is that the growth stopped, and we just have to grow up now through the process. And so, you never hear me use even words like "change," generally speaking. I really look at this as something that really happened developmentally that never quite worked itself through. You have to go back and you have adjust, grow through it. Grow up in the process of normal maturity.
Q: So, right now in Utah in the last four years there have been events: the East High issue with the club, the Nebo High School teacher, policy with the city council, an openly lesbian woman that ran for the legislature and won that seat but with controversy. But particularly with kids and in the schools issue there's a lot of controversy. What is your perspective on that? As I wrote this question, I thought, "why is there so much controversy over homosexuality in your opinion?"
A: Well, society has changed and now allows us to talk about something that has always been part of culture, openly in a way that it hasn't been available to us before. And as we begin to talk about that, it starts to invade public institutions. In other words, private dialogue has eventually become public dialogue. And as that starts to invade institutions, obviously people then become concerned about it. Some people are frightened, they don't understand, they don't relate, and it may seem worrisome to them. Other people are stepping in, and they're wanting to talk about their feelings and their concerns and everything. They want to be respected in those processes and have every right to expect that they should be. And so, this process of how we sort out this matter, that's now become public.
You know it's an interesting
one, and so it becomes controversial. You know we're sorting it out as
a society. We're now trying to say, how do we treat people who may deal
with the whole process of sexuality different than I do, and how do we
go about relating to one and other as human beings. And respecting each
other in that process. And the very fact as we go through this sorting
and looking at it and examining it, it's bound to cause a lot of anxiety.
It does every time, it doesn't matter whether you're talking about changes
in racial attitudes or gender attitudes or whatever; such as when women
wanted to come into the workplace, which had been exclusively male.
Q: As we have spoken with people in the community, specifically about the East High incident. I'm talking about people on all sides of the issue, on both sides of the issue if you want to divide it black and white. Some of these parents are outraged, on both sides. A lot of it comes back to church, and because the LDS church is the predominant religion here, there's been a lot of finger pointing towards the church. People's feeling that the church is intolerant, that its stance is prejudice. In parents talking to their children, they're sending out a real mixed message it seems to me. Would you comment on that?
A: Sure, let me just divide it into two thoughts if I may: First of all, is there a legitimate concern about being worried about introducing sexuality into the lives of people too early in the developmental process. And the answer is yeah. Our sexuality is something that is so ambiguous when we're fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. Every teenager is confused about sexuality. Every teenager is trying to sort through this process. We know by asking teenagers questions in studies and surveys that when a person is a sophomore in high school and you ask them about their sexuality, many many of them, a very high percentage are really very unclear about their sexuality one way or the other. They don't know whether they're homosexual or they're heterosexual; in fact, it's almost as high as fifty percent.
And obviously since we know that in the end, only two or three percent of those individuals will actually be homosexual, the fact that half the kids are confused about it means nothing as to what they're going to ultimately be. So, the question often is at what point in our lives of children do we introduce the self-labeling processes that can be less than helpful. And so, that's one of the questions. In other words, we know from studies that if you label, if you tell a teacher that this classroom is a classroom full of slow learners and we label them as slow learners, she will teach them as if they were slow learners, they will begin to start seeing themselves as slow learners, and they will then respond accordingly. Their test scores will start to fall. In other words, our expectations of what we label people as, when we know that they have tremendous effects on, on how we are, to label anybody at the age of fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen when they have no business frankly, in my opinion, being involved with sexuality at all, expect for just the natural hormonal interest you know.
As they are going through all this ambiguity I think all of us ought to agree, regardless of our own sexual preferences, that that is no time in people's lives to be trying to sort to much of this out. But, that's an adult decision that ought to be reserved for adult years. And at that point children really ought to be protected. In other words, they ought to live in a safe place where they're loved and they're cared about and they're allowed to sort through things in a caring environment. So, I think there's some danger in allowing groups of children to either self label themselves or to allow adults to label them at a very early age in relationship to their sexuality. So, on that level that's one issue.
Q: Go ahead and finish that thought. Please elaborate on the second part of your answer.
A: Now, in the second question you said that as we explore, as I understood your question, what you were wanting to know is, as we explore issues around sexuality many parents seemed to feel very frightened about introducing into the lives of children at all an understanding that people are not all alike and that people do deal with different kinds of challenges and they are real life challenges.
One might ask, wouldn't it be better if we could somehow insulate our children from all the sadness and all the sorrow and all the difficulties of life? But realistically that's not going to happen, death, suffering, difference in gender, in race, in sexuality, in many choices that we are going to make about lifestyles and ah, and ah values are just something that are part of our life. And I don't see any danger in children understanding that a lot of people answer the questions about what life means and where I'm going and what do I believe.. in different ways.
parents are frightened. I think the idea of homosexuality has been one
that we haven't talked about in our society very much and it's been a
taboo subject. And now that it's out of the closet, so to speak, and we're
talking aobut it and we're facing the reality of our children having to
deal with it. I think there are people who they themselves understand
so little about it, wish they could shove it back in and close the door.
And realistically, that isn't going to happen.
We should be using the schools as a medium through which to teach respect for diversity and difference. I think that that's vital. And if we do that, we'll all be better off, and we'll all be happier. I think that's something we can all unite around. But, if one then says that diversity means we all have to agree that it's okay that everyone does certain things differently. There's a difference between understanding that someone may have a choice to drink alcohol, and saying that that is a good choice. Those two things may not be the same at all, especially for teenagers.
Q: So, how do you bridge that gap, with the church policy saying homosexual sex is immoral because it's outside of marriage. How do you bridge that gap? Between kids that are being taught that in their home and then going into a school setting and you have people that believe in a different way, and there's name calling and harassment and there's all these different things. How do you foster that, how do you teach that mutual respect? I am seeing in some of these homes that there's a real mixed message there. As people are being perceived as being bad or evil, they're also being taught that you're suppose to treat them nicely. And the church is getting the wrap for that, so how do you bridge that gap?
A: Once again, if you notice what I said about the doctrines of the church, and if you listen carefully to the statements of the leaders, they do not differentiate in any degree the difference between unmarried homosexual sex and unmarried sex. The leaders of the church have been tremendously clear on that. There is no greater degree of sin, for one or the other. Now for years, we've been sending our children to school with individuals who choose not to honor that concept that sexuality is something to be reserved for marriage. And I don't believe that most of our young people walk up and down the halls of our schools calling eachother fowl names around heterosexual sexual activities.
Sometimes there are people who are so out of control that they think that anything can be an excuse to act badly. But it is because in our own minds homosexuality feels so different to us that we can't relate to it.
I often use the experience of as a bishop, if you go in to see your bishop and you say, Bishop you know I am having a problem. There's a secretary at my office, and I have to admit that Mom's at home with the three kids and she's tired and the house is kind of a chaos, and I come to work every day, and the secretary dresses beautifully and is always so nice and always so polite and always so interested in everything that I think and care about. And I don't have to tell you, I am kind of attracted, and the bishop says in his mind, while he may not censure temptation, he'll say, well, I can relate to that.
I've had similar
experiences: I too have been attracted to other individuals in my life
that I'm not married to. And then if you say, oh by the way my secretary's
name is Mark. Then the bishop goes, Mark, Mark, wait a minute....In other
words, now we've just jumped into a whole other process. It wasn't, as
long you thought the person whom I was talking about was female, that
big of an issue. Once you realize that the secretary is a male, then all
the sudden there's a disconnect, because maybe there's nothing in our
own personal experience to which we can realate.
Consistently we believe what we believe, that they have the ability to act as an agent and choose their own way of life. We don't treat them disrespectfully. I see the disconnect in the minds and hearts of adults who aren't capable of explaining this better and normalizing the process of respecting other people. There isn't a greater and lesser process in the mind of the Lord. I don't believe there's a greater and lesser sin in the minds of the church leaders. The disconnects happen in the minds and hearts of parents. And we just have to do a better job. We just have to be better at our parenting processes.
Q: Let's switch gears. I'd like to talk a little about Family Fellowship and their stand on church policy. I've spoken with families, and I know you're familiar with the Fellowship. The families say that the church's stand on homosexuality is tearing families apart, and that it is causing many good people to leave the church. And they say the church isn't addressing the hurt and wreckage caused by this policy. What's your comment and advice to these people?
A: First of all, let me just say that Evergreen's policy is not really to comment on other organizations and their policies. But they have raised a wonderful issue, I mean an important issue in the hearts and souls of a parent who is looking at a suffering child and they're saying, wait a minute we have a conflict here that's taking place in our home.
We believe that certain doctrines and standards are true. We believe that the church is true and that the leaders speak for the Lord. And now there is a conflict between the behavior of my children and the things that that we've been taught are correct. And this causes a great deal of sorrow in our home. And the answer is, of course it does. It causes sorrow in a home at any time that the children start to struggle with real life challenges that that they don't seem to be answering the way that parents would have hoped they would have answered or would have dealt withthe challenges regardless of what they are. Then they suggest that the church is the instrument of that pain because we find ourselves in conflict with that issue.
Well, the fact of the matter is that the standards of the Lord are the standards of the Lord. They are what they are. The Ten Commandments have been the Ten Commandments now for thousands of years. When we find our life choices in conflict with the commandments of God obviously that creates a situation where there is some conflict. And that conflict can lead to a feeling of sorrow. We feel sorry and feel sad that all of the sudden our choices are now no longer matching up very well with some of the things that that the Lord has asked us to do. To then blame the Lord, to kind of say, well you know if we would just do away with the Ten Commandments, that would solve the problem. The answer is, of course it would. Obviously doing away with all standards, all doctrines, and all expectations would eliminate all sense of disappointment, because then we would have no standards to which to hold ourselves.
My children feel sad when they get a "D" when the expectation of the school and their parents is that they can make a "B" or an "A". They feel sad when I suggest to them that they need to do better, that they need to improve. To suggest that the school system merely ought to do away with grades, so that my children never have to feel sad or so that I never have to feel disappointed because they're not doing all I believe they can do, to blame the system, seems a little silly.
I do have genuine empathy for these families who are struggling with the question of how to love their children, support them, show them the concern and affection that they need to, while their children may be choosing to live bt some standards that are different from those that these parents been taught and choose to believe. The way in which one reconciles that is always a challenge inside of families. It has never been any different and it never will change. This one just is the latest in a series of those things.
And I certainly care about those parents, and I'm concerned about them. And we pray for them. And and and we should help them in our congregation and do everything that we can to uphold them. But, that's how we answer the question. We answer them by showing love and kindness, which we demonstrate and show towards people who are facing challenges and difficulties. But we can't abolish the world so that they don't feel there are challenges and difficulties. It's just the way it is.
Q: I spoke with one young former member of the church, who said that to deny that she is a lesbian (she choose to leave the church) would be dishonest and even immoral. Can a person really change?
A: Sure, certainly they can. If she chooses to label herself as a lesbian, something that I believe is a false construct to begin with, I believe that she is a child of God who's simply having some challenges in regards to her sexuality. The fact that she has decided to label herself as a lesbian and then to suggest that because of that she would be a hypocrite not to affirm those feelings, I couldn't agree with her. To say that she hasn't had those feelings, that those things are a conflict in her soul, that is what she has to deal with and work with. So, you know, it would be silly, not only hypocritical, and in my opinion it would be unhealthy for any of us to deny the feelings that we have.
Now the question then is what to do now that we identify that we feel that. What she has chosen to do is to leave the church and then to separate herself from those values that she now feels in conflict with in relationship to her behaviors. And that is generally what all of us do, when we find ourselves unwilling to conform our values and our behaviors; something has to change. We either change our behavior or we change our values.
And what she said is that I simply choose to redefine my value, and I no longer believe that sexuality outside of the institution of marriage between a man and a woman is correct. And she has every right of course to make that kind of choice.
Q: Can a person really change? Many people say, no I can't, that this is just an innate part of me and it would be impossible to change.
A: There are always two levels to these questions. One is, do they want to change, and that's a personal issue. I can't suggest to someone that they should want to change or that they should have that will or desire within their heart. That's something that's either there or it's not. I can't help anyone who doesn't have any interest in changing or working through the growth process, as I like to think of it.
But, is growth possible? Can individuals move from a place where they have feelings of erotic attraction to a person of their own gender to the point where they no longer feel those feelings? And even more to the point, when they start to feel erotic attraction towards a person of the opposite gender, legitimately marry, and have children and live happily in that process the answer is: absolutely. In fact I can fill a room full of individuals who would be happy to tell you about how they've done just exactly that in their lives. And so, the proof of the process is not only within studies that are being done, there's data being accumulated all the time in relationship to therapeutic processes that have done that.
By the same token, a person who says to me I used to feel this way and now I feel that way, I have to honor that statement as well. It's not my right to say to that person, you obviously didn't really feel that way to begin with, and you obviously don't really feel this way now. I have to accept that people basically have a right to interrupt their own feelings and and to talk about them. And, of course, there are people who have done that, done that very successfully and are happy to talk about those experiences in their lives.
Q: How does the spiritual base help LDS people make that change?
A: Once again, our spirituality is a tool. It's one of the tools in our chest of tools that we have to deal with things. You know that one of the things that we have is the amount of will that we have determined during our lives to be able to deal with any problems or challenges. That's a tool, it's either a very strong tool or maybe a weaker tool. Our spirituality is another tool, it may be a stronger tool or maybe somewhat weaker tool depending on how we've developed it and how we've allowed it to become part of that.
A Latter-day Saint has the opportunity to draw upon the strengths and resources and promises of the scriptures and of their spiritual life to able assist them. The scriptures state very plainly that there has never been a problem that's been placed before man, that the way of escape has not already been prepared by the Lord. That's an incredible promise from the Lord to his people, that there is no challenge that we ever met or ever face in our lives that He has not already envisioned our way through. The Lord doesn't give us commandments that we can not live by. He is not asking us to do anything that that is beyond our capability. And by having that faith of understanding those two principles--first, that the Lord doesn't ask me to do something I can't do, and second that no matter how impossible at this moment it may look to me, The Lord knows the way of escape and it's already prepared for me. By following those two concepts with faith, I can work my way through any challenge no matter what it may be--whether it's a physical impairment or difficulty, disease, death, other struggles that may have to do with my sexuality what ever they might happen to be.
Q: Can you comment about the church's policy on excommunication. One Mormon family I talked with was particularly devastated by their son's excommunication. The LDS church is their family heritage, and their son felt that that couldn't be taken away from him. Can you comment on that...about what place excommunication has?
A: I want to be careful to say, I certainly don't speak for the church. You kno I have no right or authority to do that. If you're asking me for my perception as a member of the church, as a person who served in some ecclesiastical positions myself I'm willing to make a couple of observations. Excommunication does not excommunicate you from the family of God.
Excommunication has to do with your formal involvement within an institution within that family, which happens to be the church. So, in other words, the fact that a person may or may not be a member of the church does not change the fact that God is their father, that that person is still my brother, that I have the same obligation to mourn with those who mourn and suffer with those who suffer. We also have to reach out in love to people who are dealing with difficulty.
The process of excommunication is often one to try to do two things, that is, to protect the institution of the church so that the standards are clear to those who may be looking on and looking for some type of a guidance and assistance. At the same time, excommunication is a way of sending a message to the individual that the things that they are doing are not in conformity with the doctrines and standards of the church and to try to encourage them to come back into conformity with those feelings. Obviously, the concept of excommunication would be an incredibly painful and sorrowful one for any family. And I can imagine, actually I can't imagine the level of sadness that would exists in a household that would be struggling through those kind of feelings or the sadness that that young man must obviously feel.
The matter of who is excommunicated or what consist a reason for excommunication really varies from bishop or stake president, as they deal with those because it's a spiritual matter. When I was a bishop I participated in several processes of what are now called church councils, they're called disciplinary councils. No one communicated anything from above to me as to what I should do. It was my prayerful consideration with my counselors that I used to decide how we could best help that individual. And then you go through a process, really a painstaking soul-searching process of asking the Lord to help you. So, it's not like the church has a policy that if this persons does this, then this is what takes place. It doesn't. So there's a tremendous amount of variety. And often times one of the things that causes some sorrow is people will say, well, I knew someone else and they lived three towns away and they went in and they had a problem and they talked to their bishop and he choose to handle it this way. Why did my bishop choose to handle it this way? Well, the answer is that each individual is unique, each situation is unique, and each bishop is entitled to seek revelation to try to assist that person as best as they can.
The goal of excommunication is to bring a person back into fellowship if that person is willing to do that. But, if the person isn't willing to conform himself to the standards of the church; it is also a way of being able to clearly define that process and say this person has chosen to disassociated themselves from the church. And it's only fair that they and others understand that that's true. So one of the reasons for excommunication is to say that it's not possible to be a member of the church and live in conflict with the doctrines and basic standards of the church. And so, in all fairness, one ought to withdraw if one doesn't feel supported by those things that are the institution's goals and standards.
Once again that does not change the relationship of that individual to the Lord. That relationship is immutable, and it exists at a much higher level than anything we can construct here on Earth. And so what I would want to hold out to that young man is the realization that his father in heaven loves him, that Jesus Christ died for him and that he is a brother to every man on this Earth and every woman on this Earth. And that hasn't changed a bit. And that he needs to take comfort in that realization of who he ultimately is. And then he must make some decisions about how he's going deal with that on an institution level, in his relationship with the church.
Q: Do you think that the church will ever change it's position regarding homosexuality. And then, how do we live with this issue?
A: The reason there isn't going to be a change is because it's not a policy, it is a doctrine and there's a difference between policy and doctrine. Some things are commandments, and to violate those commandments is sin. Those processes do not change. That's why it's not comparable to some of the other issues in the church. Polygamy was a policy; Blacks in the priesthood was a policy. No one suggested for a moment that for a black person not to receive the priesthood was a sin, or that if a person who wasn't a polygamist was therefore living in sin. That is a different concept than saying that the Lord is going to change his standard of what is acceptable behavior and I know the word is harsh is '99 but the reality of what is sin. That is why the doctrine will not change.
To go into the second issue from that, about what can we do. The world is a lot smaller place than it used to be. It used to be that most of us lived in small towns or small cities. Communication was somewhat limited. We lived together as neighbors, and we tended to know the people were around us. We knew them as Joe or Mary and we had some relationship to them.
Now as communication becomes more complex, people around the world are almost brought into our living room. Issues of what's going on in people's lives become much more politicized than they used to be. I don't believe that changes our obligation towards those individuals as our brothers and sisters who we live with here in neighborhoods and places where we have to live. But, it is going to cause us to have to change our mind set and to think ourselves not so much as part of this big, socio-economic politic mass that's doing all these types of things.
But we must realize that the children who go to our high school are our children. The people, who live on our blocks, are our neighbors. The people, who live here in our town, are part of our community. And everybody's important and everybody needs to be respected and everybody needs to be valued. And we need to move back to the standards of those smaller towns that say we care about everybody, we care about every soul in the process. And how we go about living together, even though we may disagree on some pretty fundamental ideas, is very very important. And I believe my work is not merely to help those that may be struggling with issues concerning homosexuality, that is, to be able to live by the standards of the church. But it is also my job to take the reality of the suffering and the worry and the sorrow of individuals who are working through problems in their lives, and to carry those brothers and sisters and hold them up before my fellow church members and ask them to live by the standards and gospels of the church, which require them to love, care for, and pray for, work with, and heal those broken souls who are all around them. Which is all of us.
And so, my job goes in both directions: it's not merely like I try and change people's lives, but rather to change the hearts of individuals that I meet with to help them understand why they need to reach out and love other people who may be struggling through problems around them, regardless of how they decide to respond. Whether they respond in the same way in which I might choose to respond to that challenge, or if they respond to it in a different way.
And so, I believe
it's very vital, very important in our community that we tone down the
rhetoric, you know, that we get away from labels and blaming and naming
and get back to a process of saying, if there's a struggling young person
in our high school, how do we help that young person? How do we assist
them? How do we do the right things for that child? And not abandon them
into some political process that may make some point but doesn't do a
thing to help them in their own lives.