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Commentary: Life is hard enough without religion adding pointless burdens

(Photo courtesy of Kylea Knecht | BYU) BYU professor Eric Huntsman

Peggy Fletcher Stack’s piece on Eric Huntsman’s Brigham Young University devotional (“Make campus and Mormonism safe spaces …”, Aug. 8,) is both encouraging and challenging.

Huntsman is clearly attuned to the isolation and struggles faced by LGBTQ members of the LDS Church. He urged his listeners to create “places where our sisters and brothers can safely question, seek understanding and share their pain. … The choice to love can literally make the difference between life and death.”

Huntsman added a qualifier: LDS doctrine and standards must not be diluted or compromised. The sticking point is that questions about sexuality, doctrine, faith and church relationships are deep questions of personal identity and meaning. They are frightening to ask even of oneself privately within the closet. To openly share such questions with others who cannot question doctrine, at least not out loud, would feel even less safe. Safe places are places of trust and acceptance open even to questions that challenge doctrine.

Doctrine that casts same-sex sexuality as immoral, sinful, disordered and offensive to God, and that prohibits same-sexuality even in marriage, separates lesbians and gays from the very thing — family — that the LDS Church says defines a spiritually fulfilling life. The doctrine engenders shame, self-loathing, loneliness and depression.

Although it is desirable to rid the world of things that have such damaging consequences, the doctrine is justified like this: The truth is the truth even if we do not like or understand it, and the eventual reward for those who remain obedient makes deprivation and suffering in this life worth enduring.

The truth is the truth. The question is whether we actually know the truth or only think we do. Sincere adherents of conflicting religions may feel certain of their beliefs, including that truth is revealed to those who pray aright. But members of conflicting religions pray with equal sincerity, get conflicting answers and feel certain that their answers are true. There is no further test to determine which of the conflicting answers, if any, is correct. If a truth is revealed here, it is that people are good at rationalizing their beliefs without realizing they are doing it.

The only moral choice for churches is to eliminate discriminatory policies that do great harm and have no offsetting benefit. The LDS Church did so 40 years ago when it eliminated policies against people of African descent.

It is morally imperative to help make lives better, build people up and prevent harm. When people act on these principles, the mechanical details of responsible, caring sexual expression are morally unimportant, certainly within marriage, including same-sex marriage.

Until church policies change, LGBTQ people have an unavoidable choice. It is not to try to change orientation or identity, an effort that has harmed many. The best evidence is that sexual and gender traits are fixed prenatally and are rarely subject to meaningful change.

The choice, rather, is between committed, enduring relationships that make this life richer and more meaningful versus what might or might not make what might or might not be an afterlife better, however certain one feels about it and however much one wants it to be true. Poet Mary Oliver asks the question best: “Tell me, what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?” Or, Tell me, what are you going to insist that others do with their precious lives?

If God loves us, God wants good things for us. I can make no sense of how it would be either loving or just for God to withhold any good things in the hereafter from people who, here and now, sincerely and to the best of their judgment and ability believe what makes sense to them, including that it is right to replace undeserved loneliness and pain with welcoming acceptance and responsible freedom.

Life is hard enough without adding pointless burdens.

Bob Dow has lived in Millcreek with his wife and family for 39 years.

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