Jack Davis: The church keeps flip-flopping and we keep suffering

(Demetrius Freeman | Special to The Tribune) Maddie Hall, 25, left, and Sarah Morris chant with current and former members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the LGBTQ+ community, and supporters demonstrate at Lincoln Square across from the Latter-day Saints temple in Manhattan on Saturday, March 7, 2020. BYU reinstated policies in its student handbook that prohibit "homosexual behavior."

In the year since graduating from Brigham Young University, I’ve never felt as proud of my alma mater as I did three weeks ago. The school finally amended its Honor Code to permit same-sex relationships.

This was the equality and acceptance that many of us had spent years dreaming of. Hundreds of LGBTQ students celebrated as they realized they could finally live an honest and open life.

With one short statement, however, that exuberance came crashing down.

In a letter released last week, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stated that same-sex relationships will not be tolerated at its schools. Billed as a simple clarification, this letter was released to address “misinterpretation” following the change three weeks ago.

The only problem? There was no misinterpretation. The church simply changed its mind.

The changes made to the Honor Code allowing same-sex relationships were far from accidental. According to administrators, they came following a months-long dialogue with church leaders and were ultimately approved by the Church Board of Education and Board of Trustees, a board that includes the First Presidency of the Church.

These approved changes were also clear. Students and staff alike were told that same-sex relationships would now be permitted on campus. Even Kevin Utt, the director of the Honor Code Office, personally assured students that same-sex relationships were now acceptable.

“When we visited the Honor Code office, they were actually very straightforward,” a pair of current students shared with me. “They told us that under the new rules, dating, holding hands, and kissing are fine, just like they are for straight couples.”

While the letter released last Wednesday would have us think we were all simply confused, it is, in reality, a cowardly about-face and an attempt by the church to gaslight the entire LGBTQ community into overlooking the flip-flop. Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened.

In 2015, the church published revelation classifying people in same-sex marriages as “apostates” and barred their children from baptism. Members at the time were assured by Russell M. Nelson that this controversial change was received by revelation. After intense public backlash, however, the policy was completely reversed.

This revelatory whiplash has a profound impact on the lives of LGBTQ individuals. Opening the door to greater love and equality, only to slam that door shut weeks later, profoundly impacts the emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved.

A closeted LGBTQ student confided in me that she feels betrayed by her school and her church.

“After the Honor Code was changed I finally made a plan to come out to my friends and family. I finally felt like there was a place for me in the church and at BYU. Now I just feel like BYU and the church don’t care about me being happy here.”

My heart breaks to think of the countless others like her at BYU. It was not long ago that I was in her shoes, weighed down by the same feelings of shame, fear and betrayal.

No student expects BYU to be devoid of standards, just as no member expects the church to exist without principles. What we do expect, however, is a church that does not flip-flop on policies or gaslight its members. We expect consistent and compassionate policies that do not collapse under pressure from angry orthodox members and hateful “DezNats.”

The church should be ashamed of its treatment of LGTBQ students; it should be ashamed of the pain, anxiety, depression and suicide it exacerbates through its careless and heartless approach. In a decidedly un-Christlike manner, church leaders have chosen to foment fear at the “Lord’s university” and have elected to relegate LGBTQ students who desire normal, healthy relationships to a place on the margins.

Unless the church makes real efforts to change — and then stands by those changes — thousands of LGBTQ students and members like me will continue to suffer in very real and very lasting ways.

Jack Davis

Jack Davis is a recent graduate of Brigham Young University currently pursuing a master of public policy and master of science in foreign service through Georgetown University.