Choosing Love or the Mormon Church, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

We are still sorting through the scores of emails from readers responding to our callout over the question “What’s the biggest religious choice you’ve made?,” and we’ll start airing your stories soon. For now I want to highlight one especially good reader comment on the piece Frances Johnson wrote for us about LGBT Mormons who have to decide whether to stay in the Church and stay celibate; try being openly gay and hope for the best; or resign from the membership rolls and effectively quit their religion. As Johnson observes, the LDS Church has dug into its opposition to same-sex marriage: Gay couples can now be excommunicated, and their children can’t participate in certain religious rituals, including baptism. (A number of other religious groups are struggling with divisions over homosexuality; last May, for example, I wrote about LGBT-related conflicts among Mennonites.)

Here’s how our reader, Jon, responded to Johnson’s piece, and unlike our readers emailing in, Jon is still struggling over the choice he might have to make—between his church and his sexual orientation:

I do see how it’s difficult to understand why we would want to be a part of the church. (I say “we” because I am a gay Mormon.) I don’t think I could easily convey it through a message, but I hope to give a small tidbit to try and answer.

For me personally, I feel like if I leave the church, I loose one half of myself, and I will lose one half of myself if I stay and don’t live a life filled with a wonderful relationship with a man I love. Either way I lose.

So as of yet, I’m stuck in the middle, trying to decide, “What do I want to lose?” Many LGBT Mormons feel the same way. I have very personal experiences that have caused me to believe many of the teachings of the church. Many things that I believe are so deep and personal they are at the core of my being, things that I cannot deny. And then I have the very deep and personal feelings of being attracted to men … something that is a core to my being and that I cannot, nor want to, deny.

Here’s my main problem: I’m not entirely sure what I want, or what I feel is “right.” I’m trying to figure that out. Which is why I enjoy hearing different perspectives on the subject. I hope to broaden my thought and understanding, in hopes of something helping me decide.

Has sexuality shaped a religious choice you’ve made, or your community? Tell us about it: Here’s how one reader responded to Jon:

I’m a bi woman partnered with a man. I’m probably older than you—nearly 50—so I grew up in a time when LBGT folks weren’t accepted even in the secular community, at least not to the extent that we are today. It was hard enough dealing with the slurs, etc., from society-at-large. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for young LGBTs forced to attend churches where they were also subject to condemnation!

Be true to yourself, and let your life bear good fruit! Let that be your goal and guide.

Here’s another reader addressing Jon:

I had to choose between my faith (Catholic) and my desire to live a full life with a person I could love. I’m older than you, and like [the bi female reader], I grew up when things were far more difficult. It was an easy choice for me because quite a few LGBT friends of mine had to give up close relationships with their entire family as a result of their sexuality. Losing chunks of your life like that were common for us then. It was even illegal for me to continue in my job, so I quit that too.

My advice is this, and take it for what it’s worth: If you come out, you’re likely going to lose family members, and you’ll turn away other people that you currently have good relationships with. So there is probably no middle ground for you. Either you’re in a healthy relationship with the man of your dreams or you’re celibate and lonely, watching your friends grow up, marry, have kids, and move on without you.

On the other hand, there are a number of Christian faiths that you might not appreciate as much as LDS but that could still give you a path to God without having to sacrifice having a life partner. The greater mysteries of the LDS church are mostly closed to those who don’t marry and have children anyway. (My life partner is a former Mormon—no temple wedding for us.) You and your life partner can be full and welcome members in another church.

The tension between faith and sexuality also has a major source of legislative conflict. Last week, David wrote about North Carolina’s brand-new law that prohibits cities from passing anti-LGBT-discrimination ordinances, among other things. A number of states have considered similar bills (and for a primer on what this looks like, you can read my piece on this topic from January.) In many places, the push for religious-freedom protections—for vendors who don’t want to have to have to serve gay weddings for example—has an inverse relationship with the push for LGBT-discrimination protections, in terms of things like housing, employment, and public accommodations.

Just as LGBT people are facing choices about how to relate to their religious communities, so conservative religious folks have faced choices about how to relate to LGBT people—even those who are deeply morally opposed to homosexuality and gay marriage. I’ve written on two evangelical leaders, Russell Moore and Albert Mohler, who have wrestled with this question, and there are many others.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the growing acceptance of LGBT people in the United States has not just created conflict; it has also created change. A number of groups have chosen to change their stances on gay marriage and issued new guidelines on how to treat LGBT members in recent years. In November, for example, the Union of Reform Judaism passed a comprehensive set of guidelines on transgender issues, touching on everything from gendered nametags to bathroom signs.

If you’re interested in religious choice and want to read more on the subject, keep your eye on the landing page for our new series, “Choosing My Religion.” Our latest piece is from Menachem Wecker on “Dating to Save Your Tiny Religion From Extinction”—in this case, Zoroastrianism. And your own stories are coming soon.