In a recent podcast by LeadingLDS, a panel including Ty Mansfield, President of North Star (an organization that provides support for Church members concerned about sexual orientation and gender identity), and three former bishops, discuss how bishops can support gay members in their ward. All panel members are faithful priesthood leaders who experience same-sex attraction and provide valuable insights for Church members—especially bishops—on this topic. Here are four important tips that came from the discussion.
1. Don’t get hung up on language.
The term “same-sex attraction” is commonly used in the Church, but it is not required. “There is no doctrine on what language we should use to communicate what we feel,” Mansfield said. “Let [the person] set the tone of the conversation and lead the way.” If someone wants to use the word “gay” instead of the term “same-sex attraction,” let them. Otherwise, the bishop runs the risk of making the person feel labeled—often inaccurately.
2. Understand that gender orientation is not a temptation.
“Same-sex attraction is not a temptation, just like being heterosexual is not a temptation,” said one former bishop who experiences same-sex attraction. “It is your sexual orientation. The way you function beyond your orientation, that’s the temptation."
“God has given commandments, and he has told us that we are told to keep things in the bounds that he has set. Satan is going to do all he can to persuade us to go beyond those bounds. . . . He’s going to be tempting me again and again to break my covenants—that becomes the temptation,” another former bishop who experiences same-sex attraction said. “These are feelings you’re having, and there’s nothing wrong with the fact you’re having those feelings.”
3. Understand that transgender is different than gay.
“Sexual orientation and gender identity are very different,” said Mansfield. Just because someone experiences same-sex attraction doesn’t mean they want to be the opposite sex. People who identify as transgender, however, don’t identify with the sex they were born as. Mansfield goes on to explain that transgender expression can range from privately dressing as the opposite sex to hormone therapy to sex reassignment surgery. Unfortunately, there is very little information in the Church handbook about transgender issues.
4. Let them know they are wanted and welcome at church.
All panel members agreed that whether someone is privately experiencing same-sex attraction or is openly living a gay lifestyle, bishops should reach out and let them know they are welcome and wanted at church. “In welcoming them back, a bishop would need to do a lot of work with the ward council to prepare [Church members] so they feel welcome,” one former bishop said. “He might also need to meet with some of the ward members to discuss some of the biases they may have grown up with.”
Panel members agree that the bishop is responsible for setting the tone in the ward, and one suggestion for helping the ward have a better understanding of people experiencing same-sex attraction was to have leaders read Voices of Hope—a book that includes personal essays or first-person stories of faith and commitment from Latter-day Saints who have dealt with same-gender attraction.
Listen to the full podcast for many more important insights on the topic of same-sex attraction.
You can also read Ty Mansfield’s personal story and his advice on What (and What Not) to Say to Someone with Same-Sex Attraction.