Homosexuality: The One Sin that’s Different?

Thanks to the Club Unicorn post that’s been making waves on Facebook, I’ve been involved in several (hopefully) positive conversations about the nature of homosexuality and the predicament Mormon LGBT folks find themselves in.  Whatever you think of that post (I have mixed feelings), I think it’s a net-positive that it’s sparked so much discussion among LDS people.

So here’s another conversation to add to the pile…

If homosexuality is sin, why is it sin — and how?

The argument typically goes like this: sexuality is given to humanity for expression in marriage between a man and a woman.  Homosexuality falls outside these boundaries, therefore it is sin. It is like alcoholism or a propensity toward violence because it is a natural urge of which God has forbidden expression.  Like other impulses of the “natural man,” we might feel drawn to certain behaviors, but that doesn’t make acting on the impulse justifiable or correct.

This is an argument I myself espoused for many years.  But then I took a closer look and realized that I had failed to take note of some critical differences.

First, consider the nature of sexuality itself.  I think we can all agree that sexuality is not inherently evil; at worst we might say it is morally neutral, a power humanity has been given to exercise for good or ill.  At best (and I think a strong argument can be made for this), it’s inherently good.

Contrast this with urges toward addiction or violence, or other urges symptomatic of the “natural man,” such as avarice, hatred, or judgment.  These natural inclinations necessarily lead to destructive ends.  There is no situation where addiction is healthy.  There is no situation where violence is the best answer.  There is no situation where hatred can be used positively.  There is no situation where it’s correct to envy or condemn.  That’s not the case for sex.  Sexual urges are something fundamentally different from these other urges (which I like to call “diabolical” vices).

Please note that, in and of itself, this doesn’t make homosexuality right — it just makes questions of sexuality DIFFERENT from cases of addiction or violence.  We can all think of circumstances where sexuality is used in destructive ways.  But a closer examination reveals that this tends to happen when sexuality is tied up in one of the diabolical vices: sexual coercion is violence; sexual addiction is, well, addiction; lust is the de-humanizing of someone made in the image of God and reducing them into an object for personal gratification; infidelity is dishonesty and betrayal.  The list goes on.

Which of the diabolical vices is homosexuality attached to?  Dead serious question.  Because I can’t find one.

Not only that, Jesus said, “By your fruits ye shall know them.”  When I examine committed, mature homosexual relationships, I see the same kind of fruit emerging as in committed, mature heterosexual relationships.  I see people who are willing to sacrifice, work together, and grow together to become something greater as a couple than they could be alone.  I see stability and peace.  I see the transformation that comes from sharing a life with others.

I can’t think of any other sin that allows people to thrive like this.  And I’m not just talking about succeeding in a material way.  I mean gay people thrive in a holistic, mature, spiritual way when they are free to love and form life partnerships analogous to heterosexual marriages.  Can you think of another “sin” that produces such good fruit?  Because I’ve wracked my brain over this and I’m coming up blank.

Please note that I’m not arguing that sexual sin doesn’t exist, nor am I arguing that homosexuals can’t commit it.  We’re all capable of lust, sexual aggression, and infidelity.  But what is it that makes homosexuality sinful by definition?

Because, as far as I can tell, we’re either supposed to believe that homosexuality is its own mysterious category of evil that, against all accepted understanding of evil, somehow helps people become better, but is still wrong…

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s time to reconsider some of our conclusions.

About Katie L

A doubter by nature, a believer by grace.

Posted on June 11, 2012, in Mormonism, News and Current Events and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. You are one smart cookie, Katie Keene, and I really enjoyed reading this entry. It is well thought out and the logic is rock solid.

    As someone raised Mormon, but now finds themselves sitting quite comfortably on the agnostic fence, I applaud those who are reaching out in defence of the LGBT community. However, I don’t understand how that movement can coexist with the church doctrine that states the leaders of the church will never lead its members astray. Members are required to follow the prophet faithfully–sometimes even blindly. There have been a variety of talks regarding homosexuality in General Conference over the years and not a single one gives it a pass on the sin scale.

    I recall time and time again having a teacher/parent “answer” my many questions about the church with, “Well, there are many things we simply cannot comprehend here on earth and all things will be made clear in the afterlife.” I’ve always needed a better answer than that 😉

    I really am curious about your thoughts on this. I love hearing your point of view and have buckets full of respect for you. BUCKETS FULL.


  2. Miss Annette, that question is probably worth a handful of posts by itself, but the short answer is this: I believe that church leaders and prophets, both ancient and modern, are human and that they can be wrong. I believe that one of the times they’ve been wrong is when they’ve said that they can’t be wrong. 🙂

    A couple of years ago, I made the very conscious decision to give myself permission to be the ultimate arbiter of truth in my own life. I decided to stop outsourcing the final say to someone else. As a believer, church teachings and scripture inform my beliefs to a very important degree, but when there is a conflict between what my conscience is telling me and what a church leader or even scripture itself has said, my conscience wins. I don’t know how else to live with myself.

    That doesn’t mean I think I’m always right. On the contrary, I’m sure there are a million things I’m wrong about (of course, I’m not sure WHAT I’m wrong about, or I’d change my position — and I believe the extent to which I’ve changed positions over the course of my life reflects that). If I died tomorrow, I would be willing to stand before God as my authentic self, secure in the faith that His grace is sufficient to redeem not only my sins of behavior, but my sins of mindset and misunderstanding. When I meet Him face-to-face, and know as I am known, I’ll have to let go of some of the things I got wrong. I’m prepared to do that. In the meantime, I muddle along as best I can. After all, I figure that if He meant for things to be clear, He wouldn’t have made them so muddy. 🙂

  3. This is an interesting topic Katie. One I have thought about a lot since someone in my family is a lesbian. I have had to reconsider my stance on this just in the last few weeks. Before I had the very conservative response that it was a heinous sin, one of the worst. I have realised that I have no need in my life to take any position on how someone else lives their life. I am not the judge or the jury. I would still say that I think homosexuality is not in line with God’s plan as I understand it, but at no time am I ever told I must make a decision on it other than for my own life.
    I feel that anyone who feels they are LGBT it must be a very difficult thing to come to terms with and I don’t think any of them choose it lightly. I can never say I understand how they feel and as a result I can’t judge. The thing I find interesting is realising that despite what people do ‘wrong’, they can still be really nice, loving, caring and well grounded people. More so than many of the people you find at church. I work with lots of people who aren’t members of the church and they are a lot nicer and more polite than half the people I see on a Sunday sitting in pews. I have no right and also can not say who is ‘righteous’ and who isn’t. That’s not my job anyway.
    What my job is, is not condemn people for anything. I don’t know enough and I certainly don’t know what they go through so why should I make myself the judge and jury? If the church takes a stand, like they did with proposition 8, I can understand why they would, but it doesn’t mean I have to take a stand against proposition 8. I actually can’t see the problem that calling a gay relationship ‘ a marriage’ can do? In standing up for what we believe we cannot then forget all other commandments like ‘love one another’ and ‘judge not lest ye be judged’. We must stand up for what we believe in a way that is consistent with other commandments and gospel principles.

  4. Very interesting read, Katie. Really appreciate your thoughts and ideas on this matter.

  5. I consider myself to be an “extreme moderate”. I can very clearly see, understand, and empathize with both sides of this discussion. However, unless I overlooked it, I think we first need to define a) what a sin is, and b) what being “productive” looks like. Depending on what those definitions are (in reference to this post), it could make an impact on the outcome.

  6. Really important comment, travelingute.

    Like Annette’s question, this deserves a couple of posts by themselves, but off the cuff, this is how I’d define both sin and productive…

    1) Sin = that which is unloving (Matt 22:37-40)

    2) Productive = that which aids the inner transformation from a heart of stone inclined toward diabolical vices to a heart of flesh inclined toward love (Ezekiel 36:26).

  7. No way, Katie.

    You and I have locked horns over this a bunch of times, but I think you need to be explicit about the fact that you are defining Sin in a different way than the Church defines it, which means your premises cause you to depart from the Church’s teachings right from the get-go. The Church teaches that sin is knowingly transgressing God’s commandments (so “not loving one another” is a sin because God said to love one another: failure to love is an example of sin, not the definition of sin).

    This is significant–because you are operating on a heterodox premise, your reasoning is going to fail to have any impact at all on anyone who doesn;t hold the same premise, i.e., all orthodox Mormons, for whom homosexual acts are a sin because God said to not do them.

  8. Yeah, but….I like my definition a lot better. I think that “because God said so” is a crappy definition of sin, and I don’t think it’s the definition that Jesus taught. I think my definition more accurately reflects what is true.

    I get that it’s heterodox. But why shouldn’t I argue for a heterodox position when I find it more compelling?

  9. Kullervo… those are the same thoughts I had…just MUCH more articulate.
    Well played.

  10. travelingute. Nice. 🙂

  11. As an avowed heretic, I most certainly think you should espouse a heterodox position if you find it more compelling.

    What I am saying is that if you are going to argue with the Orthodoxy for a heterodox position, you have to start the argument from the beginning, i.e., the point at which your heresy departs. You won’t make any headway with a conclusion thats based on asumptions that the Orthodoxy rejects, no matter how well-reasoned. Your assumptions are not “given” in this dialogue because the Orthodoxy does not concede them.

    So, an orthodox believer can look at your post and say “Nope. Its not the one sin that’s different. All sins are sins because God said not to do them.” Said believer may even concede that with some sins, the underlying action might not itself be inherently evil (like moderate alcohol consumption, or going to bed at 10:30 when you are on your mission), but disobeying a commandment, no matter what commandment, and no matter whether the forbidden thing is inherently evil or not is a sin.

    Mormonism has plenty of sins (assuming sin = disobedience) that are not themselves inherently evil or immoral actions, and I wager you could get even the most orthodox believer to acknowledge that. But disobedience to God’s commandments, regardless of what you think about the thing commanded or forbidden, is sin.

  12. Kullervo, that makes sense. And you’re right. They’re coming from a very different set of baseline assumptions.

    I guess I need to write another post… 🙂

  13. The distinction that I learned from my parents is that feelings are not sins; only actions. It isn’t how we feel or what we initially think that is a sin, but how we act on it: do we carry out the urge, dwell upon it, etc. Likewise, homosexuality has two aspects: same gender attraction and sexual activity. Only one of these is a sin and it is a sin because God has said that sexual activity is only to be carried out between man and woman, legally and lawfully wed. I think that this is related to a point that was brought up in the Club Unicorn post: every choice we make automatically excludes other choices we could have made. An LGBT person is under no compulsion to act on his or her sexual attractions, just as I am under no compulsion to act upon my sexual attractions to women who are not my wife.

    This isn’t a perfect answer, but i feel that it is a mostly-orthodox LDS approach to this topic.

    Also, I believe that the commands and covenants that God has given me, as a Latter-day Saint, do not necessarily apply to other people who are NOT Latter-day Saints. Some of them do, but not all. But that’s surely another topic altogether as well.

  14. Hi, Alex! That’s a distinction I hear a lot. But my post is asking why homosexual behavior is itself sinful. Why doesn’t the same sexual morality that we hold for heterosexuals apply to homosexuals? I am arguing that sin carries spiritual consequences: I just don’t see much difference in the spiritual consequences of homosexuals in mature, long-term, committed relationships (I’d say marriage, but that’s not legal most places) and married straight folks. What kind of sin is this, that leads people to better, more fulfilled, more spiritual lives?

    I actually think it’s dangerous to argue that there are only sins of behavior, not thought. Sins of behavior are more visible and probably have more serious repercussions, but when I am unkind in my heart — when I secretly and privately judge, when I wish ill on others, when I carry grudges, when I hang on to anger, when I hold myself above another, when I indulge in lust — this is sin. Even if I never “act” on it. I think that’s the entire point of Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament: “You’ve heard it has been said don’t do XYZ; I tell you that if you harbor it in your heart, you have already committed the sin.” It’s the heart that matters to God.

    However, a point I try to make in the post is that I don’t necessarily lump sexual urges in with diabolical sins. Sexuality can be linked to diabolical sin, and then you’ve got a problem, but I’d agree that simply to have a healthy, non-objectifying sexual urge is not sinful — perhaps even divine.

  15. I consider harbouring thoughts in your heart as behaviour. For me, the first thought is not sin, but those that follow, which I think are the ones the Saviour spoke of, are.

    As far as why homosexual activity is a sin, I don’t know. I understand your point and I have a hard time thinking of any refutation that doesn’t fall to the “God said so” argument. From an orthodox point of view, that is quite acceptable. From a heterodox view, though, it leaves a lot wanting. My default reaction is usually to say that I don’t understand why but, until I receive greater light and knowledge, I will follow the counsel of the Lord’s appointed servants.

  16. Only one of these is a sin and it is a sin because God has said that sexual activity is only to be carried out between man and woman, legally and lawfully wed.

    When did God say that?

    In general, I call total nonsense on the notion of God’s commandments incorporating local jurisdictional family law by reference.

  17. Alex, I’m a little too OCD (literally) to start trying to separate out whether it was the “first thought” or the second or third. 🙂 As an OCD sufferer, I’ve thought some crazy-ass stuff obsessively for weeks, months, even years at a time in some cases. I don’t believe that was sin. A bummer. A nuisance. A hindrance. But not sin.

    I think the point I’m trying to make is that sin, on its most basic level, isn’t an individual action or thought that goes against a list of rules — instead, it is a posture of the heart that is inherently unkind and unloving, and that can manifest in a million different ways. Sin is not so much an occurrence as a way of being. We are all in sin; thus we need the transforming power of Christ to change our hearts.

    But Kullervo’s right. I need to write a whole post (or series of posts) about this, since it’s not a “given” for my LDS readers.

    Kullervo: I’m sure that wasn’t the verbiage of the command in Eden, since there was no “legally and lawfully” then, but I do think God wants a lifelong commitment for sexual activity, and I don’t have a problem with religions using marriage as the gauge for that.

  18. I don’t have a problem with religions using marriage as the gauge for that.

    Honestly? That’s because you are not familiar enough with the histories of world legal systems, family law, and marriage law.

  19. I’m certainly open to that as a possibility.

    So do you think marriage can be a completely spiritual/religious institution?

  20. (a) I think marriage as an institution is just that: an institution. Its a social/cultural/legal construct with various social/cultural/legal ramifications.

    (b) I also think two people can love each other passionately, be devoted and committed to each other, and have a fulfilling sexual relationship with each other.

    (c) I also think that some kind of spiritual union/nonduality can exist as the highest, ultimate, ideal and transcendent form of relationship between male and female, but it is a completely different concept.

    (d) I think (a), (b) and (c) above are all relevant to questions of righteous sexual behavior, but no single one or combination of any or all them is a sufficient total proxy for righteous sexual behavior. And I think that righteous sexual behavior is what God expects from us.

  21. So your sexual ethics post is one that I’ve thought a lot about over the year or so since you first posted it. It’s influenced my thinking. I really like it.

    I’m intrigued by the way you’ve kind of divorced (no pun intended) (b) and (c) from (a). If I’m reading you right, it’s not that passion and transcendence can’t exist within marriage, but that marriage is not necessary for it.

    While I agree in principle, I think I’m too Mormon/Christian to throw marriage away. Not that you’re advocating that. But there’s something about marriage that I think is really important.

  22. Well, the fact that (a), (b), (c) and (d) are all distinct concepts doesn’t mean they’re not interrelated, that they don’t inform each other, or that they don’t actually overlap, so I am certainly not saying that these are four totally independent standalone concepts “divorced” from each other.

    For instance, it’s almost self-evident that love (b) and marriage (a) are interrelated concepts but they are certainly not the same thing, and it is more than possible to have the one without the other. It’s not really much of a stretch to extend that to spiritual transcendence (if you think such a thing exists), and indeed, even to right sexual behavior.

  23. Hi, Katie, Josh McDonald here. I enjoy reading what you write, and even when I come out disagreeing, I usually feel like you bring strong arguments that make me think. This particular issue is something to which I’ve devoted a considerable amount of thought, so I figure I’ll add my $.02.

    To start with, I am going to use a different definition for the word “sin”.

    Sin is anything which prevents us from reaching our maximum potential, and as Mormons, we believe that our maximum potential is to be like unto God, having an eternal family and eternal increase.

    The second point before I move forward is that God didn’t create the laws of the universe. He lives according to them. One of those laws of the universe is the means by which life is created. This is not just our mortal life but our eternal spiritual life (as we are created spiritually before we are created temporally). I don’t have a definite reference, but my understanding is that the creation of spirit beings has a lot in common with the creation of physical beings, including the man + woman requirement.

    If Godhood can only work in a man and woman relationship, then homosexuality, at the very least, would prevent one from achieving this. I have no idea how bad of a sin it is, but on this point, at least, it prevents a person from reaching their maximum potential.

  24. Hi Josh, thanks for stopping by!

    Even though I disagree with your definition of sin, I can roll with it.

    I think it can be argued that most gay people, like most straight people, would have a hard time reaching their maximum potential if they were forced to remain single and celibate. Thus, even using your definition of the term, the idea that homosexuality is fundamentally sinful is dubious at best.

    As for the next-life stuff…you know, I’m not so sure we’re all that clear on what the next life looks like. It has something to do with the binding of people to each other and to God, but we don’t have much information about the exact nature of eternal relationships, and I don’t think we can until we get there.

    So my approach to faith is this-life focused (I think Jesus was with me on this, BTW). What I become is what I take with me. So if something makes me better here, I have faith that I’ll be better for it there.

    If being married and partnered makes straight people better here, it’ll do the same for gay people. And we’ll all be better off in the afterlife.

    I understand that my approach is pretty heterodox, though, so your mileage may vary.

  25. Katie,

    I just wanted to publicly state that I have, over the past year, reshaped my views on homosexuality and find myself in complete agreement with you. I am now wondering how best to respond to other Mormons who want to compare this stance to the official stance of the Church.

  1. Pingback: The Lost Opportunity to Preach Homonormativity | Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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