In the South during the 1850’s, it was commonly believed that African-Americans who ran away from their masters were suffering from a mental disease. The mental disorder was called, “drapetomania”. Based on scientific reasoning, the logic of the day, and justified by passages in the Bible condoning slavery, scientists argued that black people’s very nature was to be enslaved; and to deviate from their nature meant they were suffering from “mental illness”.
“A runaway slave is mania mad or crazy. It is unknown to our medical authorities, although its diagnostic symptoms be absconding from service, is well known to our planters and overseers. In noticing a disease that, therefore, is hitherto classed among the long list of maladies that man is subject to, it was necessary to have a new term to express it. The cause in most cases that induces the Negro to run away from service is as much a disease of the mind as any other species of mental alienation, and much more curable as a general rule.”
“If the white man attempts to oppose the Deity’s will, by trying to make the negro anything else than “the submissive knee-bender” (which the Almighty declared he should be), by trying to raise him to a level with himself, or by putting himself on an equality with the negro; or if he abuses the power which God has given him over his fellow-man, by being cruel to him, or punishing him in anger, or by neglecting to protect him from the wanton abuses of his fellow-servants and all others, or by denying him the usual comforts and necessaries of life, the negro will run away; but if he keeps him in the position that we learn from the Scriptures he was intended to occupy, that is, the position of submission; and if his master or overseer be kind and gracious in his hearing towards him, without condescension, and at the same time ministers to his physical wants, and protects him from abuses, the negro is spell-bound, and cannot run away.” -Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright – Report On The Diseases and Physical Peculiarities Of The Negro race” in The New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, May 1851-
Keeping that in mind, read this next statement made by an apostle of the LDS church and observe his mentality towards African-Americans.
“If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection.”-Mark E. Petersen- Address given at Brigham Young University, August 27, 1954 entitled “Race Problems—As They Affect the Church.”
Perspective is key.
A popular defense by apologists of past church leaders racist statements is that “they were only expressing the same sentiments of their time…everyone at the time felt the same way”. For me, it’s ironic they use that rationale as a “defense”. That rationale is exactly the issue. To illustrate this point, let’s fast-forward to 1978. The LDS Church through “revelation” announced that the priesthood ban for African-Americans was lifted and they and their families were to finally enjoy full fellowship and equality in the church. Unfortunately, the church’s “revelation” was 14 years after the rest of the U.S. ended segregation with the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Shouldn’t a loving and just God have his church leading the revolution for civil rights? Instead of being one of the last organizations in the US to actually do so?
During the majority of the 20th century, the official diagnosis among scientists and doctors in the US (and a passionately-held belief among the general populace) was that homosexuality was a disease, an illness. Accordingly, the race for a “cure” was underway.
Before the 1960’s, homosexuality wasn’t really addressed in LDS doctrine or theology. There were a few instances of homosexual activity springing up in the 1940’s including the Patriarch of the Church, Joseph F. Smith, being released from his calling and shipped to Hawaii to be “rehabilitated” due to his intimate relationships with younger men. In 1962, however, Apostles Mark Petersen, Spencer Kimball and BYU President Ernest Wilkinson agreed on a university policy that “no one will be admitted as a student … whom we have convincing evidence is a homosexual”. In 1965, Wilkinson went as far as stating to the BYU student body, “we [do not] intend to admit to this campus any homosexuals…. If any of you have this tendency, may I suggest you leave the University immediately …. We do not want others on this campus to be contaminated by your presence.” This baleful speech was left wanting of the spirit of Christ.
Kimball once spoke to church educators and LDS psychiatrists in 1965 and said, citing a Medical World News article, that “We know such a disease [homosexuality] is curable,”. He claimed some Mormon’s had “overcome” their gay tendencies through church counseling programs. In 1970, Kimball was instrumental in the contribution of an LDS publication for church leaders to “assist them to effect a cure [for homosexuality] and … become normal again”.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as a mental disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
In 1973, just a little over a decade since the “no homosexual” ban was implemented at BYU, the then current BYU President, Dallin Oaks, softened the policy and offered conditional acceptance of self-identified gays to the institution as long as they repented of their sins and were clean.
In 1976, and even after it was accepted by medical and psychological professionals that homosexuality wasn’t an “illness”, BYU was still trying to find a “cure” as they were actively engaged in “shock therapy”. Aversion therapy or electroshock therapy was commonly used by psychologists to eliminated homosexual behavior. BYU utilized this practice to “shock” the gay out of its volunteer (it was voluntary as long as you keep in perspective that social pressure was heavily involved. If you’re taught since birth that homosexuality is a mental illness, of course you would seek to be “cured”), gay students.
The LDS Church has historically been fairly consistent in its views and rhetoric towards homosexuality in comparison to the views and rhetoric of the “outside world”. The outside world viewed homosexuality as an “illness”. So did the LDS Church. The outside world later recanted the view that homosexuality was an “illness”. So did the LDS Church, eventually. It was a commonplace belief that homosexual tendencies were a learned behavior due to observation or reaction and that a person was not born with it. The LDS church firmly believed the same.
“There is a falsehood that some are born with an attraction to their own kind, with nothing they can do about it. They are just ‘that way’ and can only yield to those desires. That is a malicious and destructive lie. While it is a convincing idea to some, it is of the devil. No one is locked into that kind of life.” -Apostle Boyd K. Packer, 1976 General Conference speech, entitled “To Young Men Only”
The outside world in recent years has changed its stance in regards to homosexual origins and has inferred that sexual orientation is inborn. The LDS Church seems to have adopted a similar stance, although ambivalent.
“[Homosexual] feelings are another matter. Some kinds of [homosexual] feelings seem to be inborn. Others are traceable to mortal experiences. Still other feelings seem to be acquired from a complex interaction of “nature and nurture.” All of us have some feelings we did not choose, but the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we still have the power to resist and reform our feelings (as needed) and to assure that they do not lead us to entertain inappropriate thoughts or to engage in sinful behavior.” -Apostle Dallin Oaks, 1995 General Conference speech, entitled “Same-Gender Attraction”
“We do not make a judgment about someone’s attraction, we do not know why that attraction came that way and the person does not —the one struggling with it— does not. We do not make any attempt to say why that happened or how it happened . . . We’ve published that in every way we know how to publish it and we’ve put it in our handbooks. It’s in the governing handbooks that give direction to the priesthood leaders of the Church. Now if some members fall short in that then shame on them, and if I have not done well enough to teach it shame on me — that we are not passing judgment, we’re not issuing an indictment to somebody who has a feeling, to somebody who has an attraction, to somebody who has some complexities in their makeup that I guess neither they nor we fully understand”. -Apostle Jeffrey Holland- Face2Face, March 8, 2016.
“We may not know precisely why some people feel attracted to others of the same sex, but for some it is a complex reality and part of the human experience.” -LDS.org/topics, “Same-Sex Attraction”
Ultimately, much of the outside world has dropped its fear, bigotry and homophobia as research has been done, understandings have been made and love has been exhibited. The LDS church always seems to be a little behind the times in their “revelations” that end up following the example of the outside world; but with a softer rhetoric and approach towards the LGBT community, the downplaying of past leaders absolutism about the said topic, and the historical pattern of the church’s evolving doctrine due to social pressure/governmental interjection, I’m sure we will see even more of an acceptance at a future time.
Now, I understand that some members of the church would argue that this doctrine will not change because God has always said homosexuality is a sin. For them, I have a couple thoughts.
1. Try telling that to past leaders and members who vigorously believed and were taught that blacks wouldn’t have the priesthood in this life and that their families wouldn’t benefit from the other ordinances of the Gospel.
“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God is death on the spot. This will always be so.”
Brigham Young. Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, p.110
“Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them…Negroes are not equal with other races…”-Bruce McConkie 1954-
So, due to social pressure and church expansion/missionary efforts, this happened:
“Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.” -LDS.org- Read the Priesthood Ban Announcement here.
2. Try telling that to leaders and members who passionately believed and lived the “celestial law” of polygamy.
“The only men who become Gods, even the sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11:269)
Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor all referred to polygamy as the “celestial law”.
So, due to political intervention came this:
“From the 1860s to the 1880s, the United States government passed laws to make this religious practice illegal. These laws were eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the following Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church.” -LDS.org- Read the Manifesto here.
Fun Fact: “spiritual polygamy” is still actively practiced in the LDS church to this day. When a man and a woman are sealed in the temple, and the woman dies, the man is able to get sealed to a new woman. Thus, he is now sealed to two women. There is no limit to how many times he can do this. Women, however, cannot get sealed to a new man if her first husband dies.
3. Also, the “heinous sin” of homosexuality is not addressed one single time in any of the LDS canon (which includes the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine and Covenants). Christ, himself, never once mentioned this heinous sin. Not once in any of his teaching or his crowning Sermon on the Mount, for that matter, did he mention how immoral homosexuality was. He castigated many, yet was oddly silent towards homosexuals. The topic of “man lying with man” is only mentioned in the Bible a handful of times. Even then, it isn’t a crystallized doctrine or commandment. As far as anyone is concerned, a person could lump it in with the, currently unpracticed, commandments such as eating shellfish or walking too many paces on the Sabbath. Clarity is needed on such a huge doctrine from the Bible. The only recorded time Joseph Smith ever mentioned Sodom was to say that the inhabitants were destroyed for “rejecting the prophets”–not because of homosexuality. One of the most prominent claims of the Book of Mormon is it’s restoration of truths misconstrued in the Bible and it’s clarification and fulfillment of doctrine. Unfortunately, the Book of Mormon never mentions the heinous sin of homosexuality. Take a minute to think about that.
For a church that claims exclusive rights of divine revelation and direct communication from an all-loving, all knowing, just god; one would assume that that church would naturally be at the forefront of social and civil justices, the prime example of love and acceptance — not a church clinging to the coattails of said justices just to stay relevant. One would assume that the church would be revolutionists against racism, homophobia, sexism and misogyny — not conformists in an ever-evolving world. Ultimately, one would assume that that church would promote advocacy of love for all of God’s children, not antagonists of fear and phobia.
Imagine a church, claiming divine origins, giving revelation ahead of it’s time. Imagine a church never having to disavow or bury it’s past revelations and sentiments because those revelations and sentiments were inaccurate. Imagine a church willingly brushing off it’s antediluvian mentalities and ignorance. Unfortunately, the “Lord’s timing” seems conveniently congruent with political pressure and the social acceptances of its day. Unfortunately, yesterdays inaccurate revelation is today’s “speaking as a man”. Accountability is something the Church rigidly expects from every one of it’s member, yet it refuses to be held accountable for the damage it’s false revelations have done and continue to do to it’s members.
To my LGBT friends and family: You are not broken. You do not have an illness. You are natural and normal. You are loved.
For a comprehensive timeline of the History of Homosexuality in the Church, click here.