Guest Editorial: Years after officially disavowing conversion therapy, does the LDS Church still practice it in the afterlife? | News, Sports, Jobs

For nearly 200 years that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has existed, it has believed that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and therefore crucial to his happiness in this life and his final status in the hereafter. Inextricably linked to this heteronormative framework is a condemnation of homosexuality on the grounds that it confuses gender roles and fundamentally defies God’s plan.

The rhetoric of LDS leaders around homosexuality became increasingly harsh and public during the 1950s and 1960s, largely in reaction to prominent lesbian and gay liberation groups gaining increased political momentum. Frequently citing sodomy as an abomination and a sin just before murder, they presented homosexuality as a viral contagion and a serious threat to individual, family and societal well-being, which required urgent treatment and vigorous eradication. This way of thinking paved the way for the widespread practice of conversion therapy (also known as restorative therapy). Under the guise of “curing” and “helping” homosexuals “overcome their same-sex attractions”, the LDS Church has justified decades of inhumane and sometimes torturous methodologies.

The church implemented its first large-scale conversion therapy programs in 1959 at church-owned Brigham Young University. Church leaders and mental health professionals have overseen programs of electroconvulsive therapy, nausea-inducing chemical treatments and a host of other dehumanizing methods in an attempt to change the sexual orientation of gay students. Church leaders and BYU administrative officials grounded these practices in psychodynamic theories of sexual malleability and fluidity, tapping into a host of “causes of homosexuality” that were often linked to poor parenting, to masturbation, pornography and a confusion of gender roles, among many others. BYU officials also conducted regular “purges,” which consisted of large-scale interrogations of students suspected of homosexual activity.

As mental health professionals increasingly criticized the detrimental emotional and psychological effects of conversion therapy (not to mention its ineffectiveness), the Church took a more ambiguous position in the late 1990s and early 2000s. LDS general authority and spokesperson Lance Wickman said in a 2006 interview that they “cannot endorse the aversive therapies recommended in the past to remedy this affliction”, but the Church “does not advise against”. In the same interview, prominent leader Dallin Oaks supported this position stating that it “may be appropriate for an individual to use clinical therapy to seek to lessen or eliminate homosexual feelings”. Church leaders like Wickman and Oaks still clung to their predecessors’ vision of sexual malleability that created the possibility of “saving” the homosexual. A decade later, in 2016, the Church was less ambivalent and began collaborating with suicide prevention and LGBTQ+ civil rights organizations, calling for an end to “any therapy that subjects an individual to abusive practices.” “. This shift in position contributed to the eventual passage of legislation in January 2020 prohibiting licensed mental health therapists in Utah from performing any form of conversion therapy on minors.

Although the Mormon Church officially disavows conversion therapy, current rhetoric from Mormon leaders maintains the view that homosexuality is a pathology, an affliction, and a potential sin (if “acted out”). Within this framework, same-sex relationships are still considered less worthy in the eyes of God than heterosexual relationships and unfit for the celestial kingdom (the highest degree of heaven in Mormon theology). Thus, it is always assumed and sometimes directly said that people with homosexual desire will be “healed” or “fixed” by God in the next life. For example, Church President Russell M. Nelson said:

“But what about the many mature members of the Church who are unmarried? Without any fault on their part, they face the trials of life alone. Let us all remember that in the Lord’s way and time, no blessing will be withheld from His faithful Saints.

This idea that single members who remain faithful will have all the blessings of heaven, including heterosexual marriage, has been echoed by Mormon leaders for decades. (And for gay and lesbian members, staying faithful means choosing celibacy or a mixed-orientation relationship). A more explicit version of this idea can be found in a 2007 pamphlet created for people “struggling with same-sex attraction” called “God Loves His Children”:

“Our Heavenly Father’s perfect plan makes provision for those who are careful to keep his commandments, but through no fault of their own do not have eternal marriages in mortal life. If we follow Heavenly Father’s plan, our bodies, feelings, and desires will be perfected in the next life so that each of God’s children can find joy in a family of husband, wife, and child. children.

Embedded in this statement is the notion that God will root out the same-sex desires of heavenly people and allow them to fully experience His blessings, which consist of heterosexual marriage and children. This belief explains why so many LDS members continue to speak of homosexuality as a temporary affliction, a trying temptation, and an unfortunate condition that will one day be lifted for the individual who “struggles” with it. Although the Church may officially condemn conversion therapy on earth, many members and leaders continue to imply (and sometimes explicitly state) that it takes place in heaven.

So why has the Church officially distanced itself from conversion therapy in recent years, while maintaining a theological framework that involves converting gay people to heterosexual people? Perhaps it is more about public relations and preserving the image of the Church, since it would be almost impossible in today’s culture for the Church to maintain a position of explicit affirmation of conversion therapy. If it were truly about embracing lesbian and gay individuals and identities, LDS authorities would condemn conversion therapy to heaven as well. They would recognize that the depression, anxiety, and self-hatred so often associated with its practice on earth would similarly exist in heaven. For the emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being of sexual-minority church members, LDS leaders must create a true theological space for the existence and validation of lesbian and gay people, a space in which celestial glory does not exist. does not depend on sexual identity and romantic relationships. .

Keith Burns is a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College majoring in Mormonism and sexuality.


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