Advice for a new Bishop

What advice would you give to a new bishop? I suppose it would depend on the makeup of the ward, wouldn't it? A singles ward is vastly different from a family ward. I serve as the ward clerk of our local stake young adult ward. We do not have concerns about staffing the Primary or the Young Men or Young Women's organizations. Our biggest budget expense is for activities.

I don't think I am revealing any church secrets when I share that one of the primary concerns of the bishop of a young singles ward is helping the ward members understand and accept the direction of the Lord in regards to keeping oneself morally pure. The youth of today's world are subject to temptations that just did not exist when I was dating and preparing for marriage.

Dealing with moral issues

Perhaps you would suggest to the bishop that he become very familiar with Elder Holland's wonderful address to BYU students over twenty years ago that is still just as applicable today, "Of Souls, Symbols and Sacraments." I imagine if you were his Stake President you would want to bless the Bishop with an extra dose of patience in dealing with moral issues in his ward.

Dealing with pornography is not limited to bishops of Young Single adult wards. I am grateful to see more and more church resources dedicated to helping leaders and individuals deal with this issue. The General Conference address on pornography by Elder Oaks a few years ago is just one example of the counsel that the prophets and apostles have delivered over the years.

Same gender attraction

While not as common an issue, I believe that counseling youth who have concerns with same-sex attraction is becoming a larger part of the bishop's workload than it was when I was growing up. I am of the opinion that the way the church has advised leaders in this area has also changed over the years. I was pleased to read the recent discussions by Elder Oaks and Elder Wickman.

When I was a youth, our bishops relied on a couple of booklets that could be considered a little harsh by today's standards. One was "A Letter to a Friend," by President Kimball. The other was "To the One," by President Boyd K. Packer. Today, I am impressed with the tone of articles from the Ensign like this one from Elder Holland, and this one, God loveth His Children.

Update: A very important resource I missed is this Oct 95 Ensign article from Elder Oaks. It is an excellent resource for reviewing the doctrinal statements of the church about the issue.

Feelings and behavior

In my opinion, counseling an individual struggling with unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction is similar to helping someone who is dealing with an addiction to pornography. The doctrine is clear and will not change. It is our behavior that the Master requires us to discipline. The church does not take a stand on whether one is born with same-sex inclinations or develops them.

Elder Oaks has helped clarify the issue for me when he stated that homosexuality "is not a noun that describes a condition. It’s an adjective that describes feelings or behavior." This makes so much sense to me. Just as the desire to view pornography is a temptation, the feelings of same-gender attraction and the desire to engage in homosexual behavior are temptations.

Sources for help

I know I have probably simplified the matter and look forward to hearing from some of you who care to educate me further. I welcome your comments. Are you aware of the organization Evergreen International? Besides LDS Family Services, I think it is one of the best kept secrets among LDS people for family help. It is not a part of the church but provides a valuable service.

For any priesthood leader who is looking for help in counseling those who are struggling with same gender attraction, homosexual behavior, pornography, depression and suicide, I have not found a better list of articles so thoughtfully organized than the Evergreen resource page. The material is helpful to anyone who is concerned for a family member or other loved one.

Becoming more like Christ

A new Bishop has the opportunity to change some of our responses as a church to those who are attracted to the gay lifestyle. I have served with some bishops who were hard-liners from the old days. Their counseling style left something to be desired when dealing with those who came to them for help in understanding the sometimes confusing feelings of same-gender attraction.

I would hope that a priesthood leader who is called to be the shepherd to the flock would do everything in their power to understand how the Savior would help those who struggle with SSA. Just as some of the hard-line attitudes of the past in counseling young boys who struggle with masturbation has caused some to commit suicide, those with SSA face the same dilemma.

The gospel in the home

As a church, we do NOT teach that parents have to turn their children out into the street if they come to them declaring that they want to be identified as gay. It is our doctrine that parents are to follow the example of the Savior. We love our children who have decided to believe as the world believes and participate in behaviors of which we know the Lord does not approve.

We love our children who struggle with pornography, with alcoholism, with drugs, with thoughts of suicide or any of the other temptations that can keep us from the Lord, including homosexual behavior. God loves all of his children. Because he loves us, he has offered to share with us all that He has. God is pure and invites us to be pure so that we may enjoy his gifts for eternity.

Summary and conclusion

The doctrine has not changed and it never will. The Lord's standards on moral purity are clear. However, I think we as a church are coming to realize that some have feelings that are much more tender than those of previous generations. They do not need to be beat over the head to convince them of the doctrine. They just need our help building desire to control the behavior.

As Elder Packer has clearly stated, "We may one day stand alone, but we will not change or lower our standards or change our course." We cannot. This is the Lord's church and kingdom. It was not established by man. We do not have the right to change what the Lord has put into place. The standards of moral purity were given by the Lord. Our behavior is our gift to Him.


CMalone said…
I have to take exception with your statement that the things kids deal with today didn't exist when you were young. I disagree to a certain extent. There may be more immorality and temptation readily available today, but the temptation to morally sin was always there undermining the moral foundation of young people.

Girls in the fifties still got pregnant. Boys still fantizied about naked women and looked at girly magazines. There was homosexuality, but not spoken of until Rock Hudson's time. It's just broadcast more now that ever before by the media. And you're right, it is more blatant and seems to seep into every aspect of our lives. You've touched upon a subject that will not be settled with a quick answer no matter how much we debate it.

Sin is sin. There is no way around it. If I want to remain a true Latter Day Saint and I have the prepensitiy to steel, I must make a choice not to steel while being a member of the church. There is always a choice. People who say that they can't help who they are or were born as always have a choice to act on their impulses or not.

I believe that individuals in the church can be harsh and treat people that live alternative life styles cruely. It is not the way the Savior taught. We should leave the judgments up to him and Heavenly Father. Our only charge from the Savior was to love everyone as ourselves.

I wish there was a happy answer to those who feel the church as dealt them a killing blow. But there isn't an easy or a happy answer. My only charge is to do the best I can with what the Lord allows me to be caretaker of.

I appreciate your comments.
Samantha said…
Evergreen is a wonderful resource, but not the only LDS resource for members of the church with SSA and their families/friends. There's an online website, which was formed by active LDS people who have SSA for the purpose of providing community, uplift, and information. There are support groups for youth, young adults, spouses who are married to an SSA man or woman, and friends and families. The group was spearheaded by a few men and women from different walks of life, who understand firsthand the obstacles faced by people with SSA.

The site also links to a blog, in which several permabloggers talk about their individual experiences and offer uplifting commentary (one post from this blog was featured in the "Mormon Times" last week.

I've participated in the programs sponsored by Evergreen (my husband and I were on a panel in a workshop about mixed-orientation marriages last year at the conference, and I also spoke at the closing fireside), so I don't want to sound as if I'm unsupportive--but I'm pretty excited about Northstar. It seems to offer more and allow for immediate contact and community, not just information. Both are good to have around. :)
Steven B said…
Elder Oaks also said this:

“We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.”

Whether you agree that it is OK to treat nouns as adjectives or that referring to someone by a designation implies that a person is “consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of behavior,” the point Elder Oaks seems to be making is that there is no such thing as a homosexual; there are only homosexual temptations and actions.

But that simply is not born out by reality. Homosexuality is more than simply what one does. It is more than "lifestyle" or choices one makes or behavior. It describes a core aspect of that person. And the church is finally beginning to acknowledge that reality.

Oaks has been unwilling to speak of a "homosexual orientation." Such would suggest an innate or inherent condition. But Wickman did mention "orientation" in the Interview. And the church officially incorporated the understanding that some people are fundamentally oriented sexually to those of the same sex, in God Loveth All His Children.

So, I think it is fundamentally wrong to compare homosexuality with something like pornography, alcoholism, drug usage, or "other temptations." I realize that effectively the remedy has been to simply control one's behavior.

And if we were giving advise to a new bishop, we must be careful to not reduce something which is a core aspect of a person to merely "inclinations" of "temptations." Gay people are aptly capable of controlling their behavior. The problem for the church is much deeper than that, and the new bishop must recognize that there is no simple remedy. We have a religion who's soteriolgy is based on a heterosexual model. Telling a gay person to simply control his or her behavior does not resolve the enormous conflict and lack of compatibility for the gay member.
Tim Malone said…

Thank you for pointing out the additional online resources for those dealing with SSA. I was not aware of them previously. I agree that forums and discussion groups are a huge part of the success of the new media. They add a dimension that goes beyond one-way information. The sense of community from forums and blogs is one of the main attractions for me.

I visited both North Star and Northern Lights. I found them both to be professional in appearance and helpful in content. I agree, the post by Kim Mack on Requirements was exceptional and inspiring.

Thanks again for sharing these additional resources.
Tim Malone said…
Steven B,

Thank you for visiting my blog and adding your comments. Since the intent of the essay was to offer unsolicited office to a new bishop on counseling those with SSA, I would like to focus on that aspect of your comments. The issue of deciding if SSA is a sexual orientation was not my intent.

I stand by my suggestion that it is good practice to help the member dealing with unwanted SSA feelings to approach it in the same way as we would in overcoming temptation such as pornography. The issue is controlling behavior. I maintain that such an approach is the only one that will work. There is no doubt that it is hard, but life is meant to be hard.

We are taught and I believe that gender was an essential part of our identity before we were born. I am not denying that some may be born into mortality with a tendency to be more susceptible to homosexual urges. I am also of the opinion that for many, it is a learned or chosen set of beliefs and behaviors. There are varying levels of this temptation, but you'll notice that I still call it a temptation.

Perhaps the best advice for the new bishop is to have him direct the individual seeking help in this area to professional counselors who are more adequately trained to be of assistance. Bishops deal with so many issues. Although we expect them to stretch and grow in their calling, it is easy to get burned out by investing a disproportionate amount of time in energy in such a difficult issue.

Some bishops are gifted in being able to offer financial advice, some excel at helping those dealing with marital difficulties and others, like me, can help members with computer issues. But bishops are not called because of their technical expertise. They are to function as a spiritual counselor, one who helps the individual understand the doctrines as found in the scriptures and the policies as found in the Church handbook.

So perhaps the best help to a new Bishop in this area would be to ensure that he understands clearly how to refer members to LDS Family Services. He can read the scriptures with the member, pray with them and offer priesthood blessings. His calling is to counsel under the inspiration of the Spirit of the Lord. Each situation will be different. He may be more involved with some who request SSA counseling than others.

If I haven't been clear about where I stand on this issue, I will be. I concur with Elder Oaks that there is a difference between same-gender attraction and homosexual behavior. I do not believe that homosexuality is a core aspect of who we are. I do not believe that the church has acknowledged that at all. I do not know why some have to deal with this issue more than others but we all have different kinds and levels of adversity to overcome in life.

I know this is contrary to what you have expressed so perhaps we will have to agree to disagree on this. Some things we will not know until we get to the spirit world. I have written previously about how I feel we can be influenced by those who are living on the other side of the veil, both the righteous and the wicked. I believe this influence plays a large role in this issue and intend to write more about this idea in future essays. Thanks again for your visit and your thoughtful comments.
Steven B said…
Tim, yes we will have to agree to disagree. Especially regarding the attitude that SSA is merely another type of temptation. I think that the important thing for a new bishop to understand is that SSA is NOT just a set of temptations and urges.

Regarding the core aspect issue, I will direct you to Ron Schow's blog, where he has all the references:

But I won't go back and forth with you on this, other than to add an additional resource, with info, some of which is not likely to appear at the Evergreen site.
Tim Malone said…
Steven B,

Ah, this is what I love about blogging. You were so kind to come back, read my comments and respond. You have done me a real service. I don't think I would have found the LDS Resources or the blog on my own. It is good to read professional and intelligent commentary on the issue. You are a scholar and a gentleman for sharing the resource - most helpful. I am getting an education.
Anonymous said…
"The youth of today's world are subject to temptations that just did not exist when I was dating and preparing for marriage."
What? Sex did not exist back when you were young? Wow! When did it come out?

Just kiding, I had to tease you but I in fact really appreciate your blog. I think I am going to bookmark this and I think that your mom is really proud of you. I have read pieces of your blog today and I can see how/what you took from her.
Tim Malone said…
Hi backandthen,

The openness and acceptance of casual sex was not as prevalent when Carol and I were younger as it it is today. The internet did not exist when I was growing up and thus the temptations of pornography were not just a mouse click away as they are now. That is a big problem with a lot of men today, even in the church.

Since you say you read some of my blog I read most of yours. Thank you so much for your courage in sharing your journey back into the church. What an amazing thing to find someone who lives in France and blogs in English. I enjoyed reading the entries in your blog and wish I knew more about you. I can tell that you are intelligent and have a passion for sharing.

You mentioned your mission and that you were endowed and a bit about your own family struggles as you were growing up. You also wrote about your work with forgiveness. We have a lot in common. That has been the thing that has done more for me in my efforts to overcome emotional and psychological difficulties in my life - forgiving others and myself.

It must be terribly frustrating that your records were lost. Although the individual's name is removed from the membership records of the church, a copy of the records can be obtained from the Office of the First Presidency when needed. I had to laugh when I read some of the things you said about your Stake President. You are right that some priesthood leaders can be very insensitive.

I appreciate you comments about my mother. Thank you for reading my essay about her life in the church. Yes, my mother was the woman of greatest influence in my life and gave me so much of the drive and ambition I have today. She was also the greatest source of my frustration as she dealt with her own demons and struggles with mental illness.

Perhaps that is the curse of high intelligence - a corresponding amount of confusing and unhealthy self-destructive behavior. She was stubborn and strong-willed. She knew what she wanted and she went for it. She usually got what she wanted too. That's why she struggled so much with the idea of priesthood. Her impatience with men of lesser intelligence was obvious to all around her.

I congratulate you for your decision to come back to church. I sympathize with your struggles and pray the Lord's blessings upon you, especially that you can find the sweet peace that comes from forgiving others. Sometimes it is difficult to understand why some things bother us. The mechanics of forgiving is helped when the old memories that afflict and torment us can be be brought to the light. That's what I write about on my Holistic Healing blog.

I look forward to reading more from you. Keep visiting and leave me comments. That reminds me to go and read what you have written. If you will accept it in the spirit it is offered, I extend to you my love and the love of the Savior, but from what you have been writing, I think you already have been feeling his love in your life again. Cheers.
Anonymous said…
Your mother sounds a lot like mine with a lot of differences such as my mother is probably not as smart as your mother was and she is probably more sick and more proud. Yet she is smart enough to twist reality so that it will fit her purpose (such as not recognizing that she is sick) and to make anyone who does not know her that it is the truth.
But I see common point in this way that my mother is also the kind of woman who raised me with an urge to learn as much as I could. I think that this is the thing that I should be thankful for. I love to learn and test anything I can. This is the only time I have no problem with humility: when there is a chance to learn and understand something.
And yes you are more than welcome to comment on my blog.
A said…
There seems to be a curious lack of understanding on the so-called issue of "same sex attraction." It's popular to say that it's part of our genetic makeup, or that certain individuals are more prone to it than others. But that is the sophistry of men, not the wisdom of God.

I would like to step away from the idea that we are purely physical creatures driven by hormones and instinct. We are actually angels of God who have been given physical bodies. Angels are not born to sin. We're here to prove that we will not get distracted by all the choices here. Like a hound dog, we're not supposed to follow every scent that wafts in front of our noses and go sniffing around every smell that seems interesting. We're supposed to keep our noses on target ... we're after one thing, and one thing only: righteousness.

Frankly, I tire of all the so-called biological evidence that purportedly ratifies the concept of "same sex attraction." Biologically speaking, homosexuality is detrimental in the extreme, to the extent that if everyone indulged in it exclusively, in one generation the human race would be wiped off the face of the planet. So much for biological drive.

The concept of "same sex attraction" is purely psychological. It's the lure of the "forbidden." Are there people who want to explore things they know aren't good for them? Yes. Do they excuse themselves by saying they are "curious" and want to gain experience? Sure. By the same token, there are some people who turn away from these things without trying them. It's a matter of character and upbringing. It's a matter of choice.

There are people who find boozing it up with their friends attractive. Then there are people who don't. Drinking itself is an acquired taste, with sociological and cultural bolsters to encourage it. Many teens think it's fun, cool, and popular. Mormons are taught to be wiser than that. Homosexual thoughts and behaviors can also become attractive to individuals who are willing to entertain them. Again, Mormons have been taught to exercise the wisdom of God rather than the wisdom of men in their thoughts, hearts, and actions. There is no reason to be as stupid as other people, as if we had no divine guidance to go by.

Let's just quit being like the world and running around like a hamster in a cage, trying to excuse wickedness. It's really stupid to entertain sin, let alone invite it in and give it an abode.

I sympathize with those who have been exposed to the temptation of "same sex attraction" who were told they had to succumb to it. Frankly, that's just not the case. The Lord said he has given us the strength to overcome any temptation. Like anything that is bad for you, homosexuality should be avoided entirely.

People who throw others into sin by telling them they were born to it are guilty of causing much misery. In other words, if you tell homosexuals they can't get sexual sin out of their lives, that they can't eliminate it, that is is "unhealthy" to do so, then you are going to be answerable to God for convincing someone to live in wickedness.

If someone is caught up in the temptation of or actually engaged in homosexuality, we shouldn't endorse evil by telling him or her to keep at it. We should try and help the person see that righteousness is a choice and to exercise that choice daily.

Hey, angels aren't confused about what their job is (to obey God), so why should we be? At the risk of sounding scriptural, confusion is a tool of the devil. Satan's the one who encourages people to listen to what others are saying instead of listening to God. So you think you're too intellectual to accept this? Just see how much intellectualism will help you when it comes to Judgment Day.

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