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.