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David Archuleta’s anguished journey: Be true to his faith or true to his feelings?

“I’m choosing damnation” — Latter-day Saint singer says he’s more likely to “marry a guy than a woman at this point.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) David Archuleta performs at the inauguration of Gov. Spencer Cox, at Tuacahn Center for the Arts in Ivins on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

David Archuleta is in agony but ready to live a more authentic life as a gay man.

Torn between his same-sex attractions and his faith’s teachings about them, one of Mormonism’s most celebrated pop musicians says if he doesn’t share his feelings, he will burst.

The 31-year-old Utahn needs to “let out some of the steam inside of me that’s building up,” Archuleta says in a recent raw and emotion-filled 51-minute stream of consciousness Instagram post, which has been viewed more than 300,000 times, with tens of thousands of “likes” and thousands of comments.

The “American Idol” runner-up and devout Latter-day Saint — who did not respond to requests for comment or an interview for this story — says he has had trouble preparing to go on tour this year, blocked by roiling inner battles.

It’s a long way from his celebrated Christmas stint as a guest soloist with The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.

“I can no longer…pretend like everything’s fine,” he says in the video.

(Djamila Grossman | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performs with David Archuleta at its Christmas concert in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City in 2010.

Archuleta, who famously came out publicly in June, grew up a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — serving a two-year mission in Chile — and was committed to “stick with it to the end.”

Among the faith’s teachings is that marriage between a man and a woman “is everything,” he says. “It’s ordained by God.”

And that union continues into the afterlife.

“That’s what I wanted,” he says. “I grew up believing it and defending it…[thinking] I’m going to get married and have kids and have a wife and be married in the temple and get to live happily ever after.”

His sexuality, he says, did not allow that.

“In our culture today, it’s a big deal to be physically…and sexually attracted to someone,” Archuleta says in the post, “feeling that connection, that chemistry.”

He couldn’t provide that “chemistry” with the women he’s dated.

He hoped he could “overcome the lack of feelings…and make it work,” he says. “But there’s this really strange emotion that comes up each time I would try and do that — this guilt, the shame, [that I wasn’t] good enough.…You start feeling bitter towards the girls, in my case, and I just didn’t even want to see them anymore.”

The young women likely thought the connection was being built and that there would be a fairy tale, romantic ending, but Archuleta felt like he was just pretending.

He felt like an imposter.

“I don’t want to play this part for my whole life,” he says in his video. “I’m feeling like I’m going nuts.”

God’s answer

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Singer David Archuleta, center, sings along with other missionaries at General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2012.

The church says it’s not a sin to have same-sex attraction as long as a person doesn’t act on it. The Utah-based faith also has taken a strong position against same-sex marriage.

“In my religion, it’s OK to be attracted to men, just still marry a woman because it’s the right thing to do. That’s the eternal perspective,” Archuleta says. “Like that’s what’s going to really make you happy.”

He says he was taught that being with a man would make him unhappy and sad and cause him to “lose the light.”

The singer, who has been in the church spotlight for years, says he became depressed, even suicidal.

The dissonance between his attractions and marrying a woman “caused me to despise myself,” Archuleta says. “I decided…I needed to change something if I wanted to look at myself in a better light, which was scary because I thought, there’s no way I can accept that I’m into guys…that I could accept that and be happy and be OK with myself, and be OK with God.”

What would God prefer — him being romantically involved with someone “who is the same as me,” he wondered, or “not being here and not existing?”

Archuleta then started to think staying alive might be all right — “even if I’m gay.”

After endlessly asking deity to take away his attractions, he says he got a clear answer: “You need to stop asking me this because I’m not going to change this.”

The Latter-day Saint musician now feels God loves him as he is.

Echoing the sentiment expressed by Huckleberry Finn, when Mark Twain’s character chose not to hand over his Black friend to slave owners: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”

Or, in Archuleta’s words, “I’m choosing damnation.”

Social media storm

(Jim Urquhart | The Salt Lake Tribune) David Archuleta performs at the E Center in West Valley City during his first tour as a headliner.

Though Archuleta’s painful mental wrestling has been replicated thousands, if not millions, of times among Latter-day Saint LGBTQ members, the singing sensation has a public platform and more visibility than most who privately suffer.

“David’s bravery to open up and be so vulnerable is incredibly commendable,” says Madi Hawes, chair of the student outreach committee for Brigham Young University’s USGA (Understanding Sexuality, Gender, and Allyship) group. “To me, the most important thing he said in the entire video was ‘I’m here.’”

Just because other people have shared a similar dilemma, Hawes says, “doesn’t make his public display of vulnerability any less important.”

It is crucial to Archuleta’s “life and his journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance,” she says, and while hearing “queer members sharing their stories” may not prompt church changes, “there is always a possibility of it, and there is the importance of cultural change.”

No matter how “slim of a chance that change happens,” Hawes says, “it is still going to be true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

If a single queer person, “especially a queer youth in the church, heard David’s message and felt seen and heard, knew that they weren’t alone in their battle,” she says, “then that makes it infinitely important.”

John Gustav-Wrathall, former president of Affirmation, a support group for Latter-day Saint LGBTQ members and former members, told his own story of self-loathing and the church on Facebook.

For decades, though, he has been at peace with his identity and has been in a satisfying same-sex relationship, while also attending Latter-day Saint worship services.

Gustav-Wrathall, who lives in Minneapolis, acknowledges it is not easy to balance these competing pulls.

“I always hope for people to keep their spiritual center as they work through this stuff,” he writes in an email. “If there are things in your spiritual life that are working, keep making them work for you. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

His advice to Archuleta and others is to “take your time and spend a lot of time listening. And once you discern the path you need to take, trust yourself. Don’t worry about what others think.”

| Courtesy John Gustav-Wrathall, op-ed mug.

Richard Ostler, a former bishop of a Utah congregation for young single adults, speaks in church settings about how to more fully embrace LGBTQ Latter-day Saints and is the host of the “Listen, Learn and Love” podcast. He praises Archuleta for “being honest, real and vulnerable,” adding that the musician has “a gift of putting your feelings to words… [and] is giving hope and saving lives.”

When Ostler responds to LGBTQ Latter-day Saints wondering about their future, he invites them “to follow church teachings.” But he also gives them “space to self-determine their best path forward and tell them I will support them and walk with them, which is what I believe Jesus would do,” Ostler explains in an email. “And when someone changes paths (such as being gay and celibate and then in a same-sex relationship), we shouldn’t look at them as the hero one day and the villain the next day. They are the same beloved children of Heavenly Parents doing their best and deserve our unconditional love and support.”

What about the future?

(Jim Urquhart | Special to The Tribune) David Archuleta headlines at Abravanel Hall for a Christmas show in 2011 in Salt Lake City.

Seeking a same-sex relationship is about more than sex, Archuleta says in the video.

“So many people think being gay is all you want is to have physical sexual relations and give into those desires of lusting,” he says. “It’s like, no, it is the same way a heterosexual person would want to fall in love. … Are you thinking only about sex when you want to marry someone and share your life with someone? No, you want to connect with them on an emotional level. You want to share goals with them. …You just want to go and do things together. And, you know, go and eat…make breakfast or lunch, or watch a movie or go on a walk together. …It’s that connection that I had to pretend I could offer to the girls I was with.”

Going forward, Archuleta says, “there’s a greater likelihood for me to marry a guy than a woman at this point.”

In a church that values marriage and partnership so much, many LGBTQ members are left wondering “how being alone can fulfill their potential and whether such a life is worth it for a reward that is only available after death,” says Taylor Petrey, author of “Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism.” “Perhaps the reward of being straight after death doesn’t seem that appealing.”

Many LGBTQ Latter-day Saints are “relying on their own spiritual experiences that God does not want them to change their sexuality and wants them to be happy,” says Petrey, a religion professor at Michigan’s Kalamazoo College and current editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. “They’re experimenting with trying to hold to both their faith while also dating or being in long-term relationships.”

Will the church change in the light of such dilemmas?

Not likely, the scholar says. “In its history, church teachings on marriage and sexuality have changed a number of times and it is not impossible to imagine that it could accommodate same-sex relationships. However, current leaders have repeatedly stressed that they feel bound to a tradition that prohibits same-sex relationships.”

But Archuleta’s impassioned ruminations may push the debate forward, says Derek Knox, a Boston-based theologian and gay Latter-day Saint convert.

“This conversation will never go away until we as a church get it right,” says Knox, who co-hosts the podcast “Beyond the Block.” “I cannot speak for all LGBTQ folks, but here is my own advice: We should seek for change, but we should not beg the leaders of the church for crumbs, as if our LGBTQ dignity were in any way dependent on the hunches of straight, cisgender leaders.”

LGBTQ members instead should “rejoice that God is already moving mightily among us on the margins, as our records show God has done in every age,” he writes in an email. “We who are LGBTQ believers are now the host of spiritual power, resilient faith, chosen families, and undeniable miracles that result from the Word dwelling with us on the margins.”

One day, Knox believes, Latter-day Saint leaders “will have the humility to join us LGBTQ members where the Almighty God already is.”

Editor’s noteThis story mentions suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255. The Trevor Project also has a 24-hour suicide hotline for the LGBTQ+ community at 1-866-488-7386.

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