Change within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as with any institution of its size, is invariably a halting, lurching process marked by hard-fought victories and painful retrenchment.
We saw that again recently, when apostle Jeffrey R. Holland used a speech at Brigham Young University to sternly lecture faculty and students who have publicly pressed the school to be more accepting of LGBTQ students.
Holland singled out Matt Easton — the BYU valedictorian who used his speech two years ago to talk about his experience being gay at the church-owned school — for trying to “commandeer” the ceremony to announce his orientation.
For many LGBTQ students and their supporters, Holland’s address was a stinging rebuke.
And there is some bitter irony in the fact that Holland’s harsh words on the topic came at an event where BYU President Kevin Worthen announced the school’s new Office of Belonging, an important effort to embrace students of all races and backgrounds and a tacit acknowledgment that they had not felt as if they belonged in the past.
One cannot ignore that the church has progressed in its approach to LGBTQ issues since the days when then-apostle Spencer W. Kimball chided “perverts” who engage in “an ugly sin, repugnant to those who find no temptation in it” and believed the desire could be changed through so-called conversion therapy.
The church now acknowledges that people are born gay. At BYU, students can be openly gay or lesbian without being punished or expelled — provided they don’t act on those feelings.
The church has publicly disavowed the practice of conversion therapy, and President Russell M. Nelson rescinded a policy that deemed same-sex married couples apostates and barred their children from receiving baby blessings and baptisms.
But the advances have hardly been smooth and linear. We end up with events like Holland invoking the use of musket fire — an arcane analogy used to defend outdated views. They are setbacks that create a whiplash effect for those whose lives are directly impacted by the ebbs and flows.
There is no reason to think that will change, not as long as church leaders are trying to navigate between two opposing imperatives in the faith — the commandment to love and support God’s children, including gay members and their families on one hand, and, on the other, the as-yet-unbending belief that marriage exists only between a man and a woman.
And LGBTQ members of the faith are the rope in this proverbial tug of war, left with few options.
[Get more content like this in The Salt Lake Tribune’s Mormon Land newsletter, a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To receive the free newsletter in your inbox, subscribe here. You also can support us with a donation at Patreon.com/mormonland, where you can access gifts and transcripts of our “Mormon Land” podcasts.]
They can sever ties with the church, and it would be hard to blame them. It’s almost an abusive relationship to care so much about something, hoping it will change, only to have it bring you pain as often as joy.
Or they can do what students in Provo and elsewhere did after Holland’s remarks, rallying to support and love one another, helping to connect people with available resources and letting them know they’re not alone. And, perhaps most important, to not simply accept that things will always be the way they are.
The young men and women at BYU, whose views are several generations removed from those leading the institution, could be a critical catalyst for the change.
It will take patience. While we know that societal and political pressure historically has prodded the church to change — from the time it was pressed to abandon polygamy to the 1978 end to its ban on Black members holding the priesthood and entering temples — it has not come quickly.
There are, however, a few passages in Holland’s address that jumped out at me, when he said that leaders of the church and the university are “not deaf or blind to the feelings that swirl around marriage and the whole same-sex topic on campus.”
“I and many of my brethren have spent more time and shed more tears on this subject than we could ever adequately convey to you this morning, or any morning,” he said. “We have spent hours discussing what the doctrine of the church can and cannot provide the individuals and families struggling over this difficult issue.”
They are hearing the voices of young Latter-day Saints and as long as that is the case there is some cause for hope that progress, inconsistent as it may be, might continue and that BYU might be uniquely placed to play a critical role in that evolution.
Jeffrey Holland’s talk hints that BYU students could be catalysts for LGBTQ changes, Robert Gehrke writes /p>