Of Well-meaning Words: The Trial of Homosexuality

I recently read a well-meaning post that discussed the need to love LGBTQ+ people. In the post, the person, a believing and practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a church filled with many loving people, stated that although they didn’t understand why God gave the trial of homosexuality to people, God still wanted people to love them.1

I hope, in the course of writing out this post, that I am able to fully articulate my feelings around this type of wording—that homosexuality is a trial—and discuss, in words that I hope are open to all people, why this is a difficult and problematic way to word this experience.2

In the title of this post, I use the framing of “trial of homosexuality,” but this is just a type of the multitude of words to describe the experience of homosexuality and “being” a homosexual. The trial of homosexuality. The issue of homosexuality. The problem of homosexuality. Even using the word experience of homosexuality, I cringe internally. We don’t call heterosexuality a trial. We don’t say the issue of heterosexuality when a heterosexual person engages in heterosexual premarital sex or heterosexual pornography or heterosexual masturbation (although, granted, I’m not convinced this is a thing, but I digress). We don’t discuss how someone just experiences heterosexuality. It is the given in the Church (and in the broader aspects of our world culture); it is how we explain everything; it is the norm.

I am a proponent of words. And I believe there are words that are well-meaning but are not well received. Calling homosexuality a trial or an issue or a problem are believed-to-be well-meaning but are generally taken as hurtful and harming because they place the person who experiences that feeling or identifies with that identity in a second-class category that the first-class, that of the heterosexual or normative sexuality, do not have to deal with. This is one of a multitude of things that cause LGBTQ+ people to feel shunned, alienated, and harmed by well-meaning members of the Church. There are many words and phrases that implicitly place our (meaning, LGBTQ+ people’s) experiences in a category that is beneath the norm and looked on as a project, something to fix, an issue, a trial

Consider, briefly, if the law of chastity was taught with everything heterosexual considered a trial and a challenge. You experienced an attraction to someone of the opposite sex. That’s just a trial that you have to overcome. Now, think about being told that over the course of your life. The attraction you feel toward your spouse was considered a trial and a challenge before you were married. Now consider being told that over and over again and then being barred from wedding the person you love. The words trial and challenge (and more, because I am considering these as just types of the plethora of words used to describe homosexuality) create shame around the natural attraction that each of us feels.

We don’t use this wording when referring to heterosexuality because it causes shame and is detrimental to the development of a heterosexual person’s sexuality. Sexuality is a facet of our human experience that we all have to deal with. By considering homosexuality a trial and a challenge, we are creating people who are filled with shame and guilt and negative feelings around an everyday facet of life.3

Using homosexuality is a trial is a form of the well-meaning phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner.” The phrase, at the onset, was, I believe, an attempt to separate the action from the person. However, in saying it, you fundamentally undermine the person’s ability to adjudicate their own life. You say, hopefully just implicitly, “I know that that is sin. I know better than you. I do not do that sin, so I am better than you.”4 It’s a phrase that sets up a hierarchy where the sayer is holier-than-thou and the receiver of the phrase feels diminished as a person. It may not be intended as this—indeed, I don’t think it is, most of the time, intended in this way. But, intention and how words are received can be vastly different, which is why we must carefully parse our words so the intention and how the words are received can come as close as we can make them. If our excuse to how we word something is, “oh, but my intention wasn’t that,” then the sayer of the word should change the words in order for the intention to get across.5

“The trial of homosexuality” is a phrase just like this. It demeans a fundamental part of a person’s identity—their sexuality—and places it as a trial. Something to be overcome. Even though, and I cannot stress this enough, it cannot be “overcome.” It’s not something someone does, like pornography or tobacco; it’s part of a person’s biological and psychological reactions to the world around them—even, if I may, their spiritual reaction to the world.

There is a need in the Church to explain homosexuality as a trial because it is, as understood currently and taught loudly from the pulpit, against the law of chastity. However, using the phrase “trial of homosexuality” combines two things—the identity of homosexuality with the act of homosexuality. These are two intimately related, yet, as seen through current conceptions of the law of chastity, vastly different things. The identity of homosexuality means the fundamental attribute of someone’s physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, etc. attractions to a member of the same sex and how that identifies with their entire life experience; the action of homosexuality means the acting upon the feelings, which is currently conceptualized as unchaste.

I am trying to tread very carefully here, to give full respect to the law of chastity as it is currently taught and respect to my own belief that it is not currently taught according to the eternal law. In doing this, I attempt to bridge the two in a way that provides respect for the current revelation, yet the hope in future revelation. This, I believe, is something we need more of in the Church when it comes to theological, doctrinal, and policy conversations about the LGBTQ+ identity and experience—a respect (although I use that word lightly) for how it is currently taught and a hope in the fact that we believe in continuing revelation. Thinking this way requires a humbleness to accept that not even our prophet understands and comprehends fully the laws of God. The laws of God are just that: God’s laws and not mortal laws. We try and we try to explain them through earthly language, but earthly language will never match, or be able to fully encompass, the entirety of celestial language that describes these laws perfectly.6

So, I return to words. My favorite subject. Words are important. They help us communicate and connect. But, however well-meaning our words might be, we should always be more worried about how the words are received rather than the intention behind the words we share. If the words we share are not received in the way we intended them, then we have failed as communicators. But the good thing about failure is it is a chance to learn.

Notes

1 I will not link to the post because this is not a direct response to it. It is rather a commentary on what I see as a broader theme that can be seen in the believed-to-be well-meaning general authorities’ and members’ words.

2 I almost left the this without a noun. I chose experience because, although it does not fully encompass what I’m saying, it is a word that seeks to get at that full-encompassing. 

3 In other words, we are creating people who feel an attraction, just walking down the street, and are instantly filled with a sense of guilt for feeling that attraction. They react to this “trial” in a negative and defensive way because they have been taught their entire life that their body reacting to someone else’s body is a trial. Think of the stress that puts on a person’s psyche.

4 Another way to phrase this, in order to empathize and briefly understand the pain this phrase can cause, is to have someone say to you, “Hate the belief, love the believer” or “Hate the church, love the member.”

5 This is one of my many frustrations with the leadership of the Church.

6 See, for example, Isaiah 55:8–9; Jacob 4:8.

3 thoughts on “Of Well-meaning Words: The Trial of Homosexuality”

  1. You’re a very talented thinker and writer. I particularly liked this part:

    “But, intention and how words are received can be vastly different, which is why we must carefully parse our words so the intention and how the words are received can come as close as we can make them.”

    I’m going to be more thoughtful about my intention and how my words are received. Thank you!

  2. I like how you engaged the old fallacy “hate the sin, love the sinner.” As a gay Mormon myself, I’ve been on the receiving end of it several times. It has never been meant as cruelty, but as you said, intent is subjective. I have always perceived that phrase as cruel. It needs to be cut out of our discourse like a cancer. And, even more importantly, we must recognize that homosexuality is as godly as heterosexuality.

    However, setting aside sexuality, I think “hating the sin, loving the sinner” is a concept we must all grapple with. There are sins which we can both agree violate the laws of God: for instance, murder. Can I love the murderer without loving his actions or intent? Can I love the germ of godhood deep in his addled soul, regardless of his crimes? I find the answer to both questions is yes, that Christ has bought him the same as he has purchased me, with blood. My unwillingness to love the murderer the same as I love my sainted granny is a sin on my part.

    However, I abhor the sin of murder. Furthermore, murder is not written into a person’s soul like sexuality is. It is a chosen act. The question is, how do I disapprove of and fight against murderers without crossing the line? This is the hard question.

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