In a question and answer session on 23 February 2016, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, replied to a person's question about how gay Church members could remain active in the gospel. Here is the video.
The following transcript was provided by someone on reddit.
This is a question from Chile. Our translation has to be perfecto…
[Question] How can homosexual members of the Church live and remain steadfast in the gospel?
First I want to change the question. There are no homosexual members of the Church. We are not defined by sexual attraction. We are not defined by sexual behavior. We are sons and daughters of God and all of us have different challenges in the flesh. There are many different types of challenges. Would it be a challenge to be very beautiful or very handsome, and in the world in which we live, never develop deep character because we are able to open doors and have success just because of our physical appearance? And we become shallow and superficial in many aspects of our lives.
That can be a challenge in the flesh.
Some people have physical limitations: They may be born with a body that is not fully functional, or we may have an inclination to be attracted to those of the same sex. Through the atonement of Jesus Christ we are blessed with moral agency. Agency is the capacity to act and not simply be acted upon.
[Picks up water bottle and holds above his head]
This is a bottle of water. It's an object. It has no capacity to act. It is an object that can only be acted upon. So this object moves if I cause it to move, or if some other force causes it to move. My wife is afraid I'm going to hit her with the bottle of water.
You and I are not objects. We are agents. Blessed with agency because of the atonement of Christ, and with that agency we are to act and not be acted upon. That agency gives us the capacity to determine how we will respond to the variety of challenges we will experience in the flesh. So, you choose, you act in accordance with the teachings of Christ.
Simply being attracted to someone of the same gender is not a sin. There are many members of the Church who may have some manifestation of that attraction. They honor their covenants, they keep the commandments, they are worthy. They can receive the blessings of the temple and they can serve in the Church. It is when we act on the inclination or the attraction—that's when it becomes a sin. So, the reason I began my answer as I did, is that in this question, the word "homosexual" was used to describe or label a member of the Church. It's an inaccurate label. We are sons and daughter of God and we determine how to respond to the variety of challenges we experience in mortality through the proper exercise of our moral agency.
Now I want to speak very directly to you. The world teaches that we must be tolerant and accepting. There are some things we do not accept or tolerate. We love all people with whatever challenge any person faces. The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and of the Savior's church, is to assist people in receiving the strength to deal with the challenge. So we do not discriminate, and we are not bigots. We extend Christ-like love to all sons and daughters of God.
But what is the purpose of the Father's plan? We come to the earth, we are blessed to receive a physical body. Marriage between a man and woman is ordained of God, and the family is central to the Father's plan for the eternal destiny and happiness of His children. That plan is halted in anything but a marriage between a man and a woman. Now, Joseph Smith didn't create the plan. Thomas Monson didn't create the plan. God the Eternal Father created the plan. The Savior, through His atonement, makes the plan operational, effective in our lives, and the Father has not changed his mind about how the plan should operate. So please do not let the voices of the world confuse you or lead you in a different direction, as you come to better understand the Father's plan, then you will understand the purpose for marriage between a man and a woman. I hope that's responsive to the question.
Anything that anyone would like to add?
A related point is that there is a divinely designed difference between a female spirit and a male spirit. You need to read and study over and over again the family proclamation. It teaches that gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. So, whenever you take those divinely designed differences—the capacities and talents of the female spirit and a male spirit, and they are sealed together by the power of the priesthood, it creates a unity and a oneness, a whole, that cannot be achieved any other way. Sister Bednar and I have been married for 41 years. She is, other than the Holy Ghost, she is the greatest teacher I have ever had. She does not think like I think. She does not see what I see, and I learn a lot from the things that she thinks and sees that are different from me. Sometimes men and women get frustrated with each other because they don't see things the same way. They're not supposed to see things the same way. And the education that comes from a man and a woman in a marriage ordained of God is one of the richest blessings in this life.
Now we've taken a long time in responding to this question, but hopefully you can sense that the length of this answer emphasizes the importance of this topic in the world in which we live. That's why we've taken quite so long.
Taking the most charitable interpretation of Elder Bednar's words, he may have attempted to follow Paul's address to the Galations:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
This may be why he awkwardly included those with disabilities as another group that shouldn't be labeled, rather loved instead. It's hard to know. (Maybe we should give Elder Bednar a break for attempting to answer this on-the-fly?)
If this was his intent, and the context in which his apologists want to understand his words, and he was attempting to answer the question that was actually asked, he should have simply taken Paul's quote and added homosexuals to it to come up with something like
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, there is neither gay nor straight: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus, sons and daughters of God, and should act like it and treat others as such.
If he would have done that, and then stopped there, he would have been better off. But he didn't. Even if he was answering on-the-fly, the Church's rhetoric on the matter is clear and ingrained enough in such a life-long member as Elder Bednar, that his words after this point belies his too-clear knowledge of the standing of LGBTQI within the Church. It is the rest of his words that are most damning, and undermine any charitable possibilities in what he meant that "There are no homosexual members of the Church."
Looking at the quote in context, let's start with the question Elder Bednar was asked since it's an important one for the Church to grapple with considering many members feel they can no longer identify as Mormon because of the LGBTQI doctrines, policies, and clarifications: How can members who identify outside the Church's strict gender norms live their lives as steadfast members of the Church?
Elder Bednar claimed he wanted to change the question, but he never gave his revised question. What he really did was reject the one word of the question: "homosexual" as he later said:
So, the reason I began my answer as I did, is that in this question, the word "homosexual" was used to describe or label a member of the Church. It's an inaccurate label. We are sons and daughter of God…
He then spent the majority of his "answer" attempting to explain why such a change was necessary.
Elder Bednar (and the Church) do not like LGBTQI labels because the Church rejects the science that people are "born that way." As stated by an anonymous author in the Ensign:
[T]he doctrine of agency contradicts worldly attempts to justify homosexual behavior because of supposed biological or physiological causes. Elder Oaks said: "Once we have reached the age or condition of accountability, the claim 'I was born that way' does not excuse actions or thoughts that fail to conform to the commandments of God. We need to learn how to live so that a weakness that is mortal will not prevent us from achieving the goal that is eternal."
"Compassion for Those Who Struggle," September 2004, Ensign.
Since they reject the biological fact that gays are actually born that way, they can't use such legitimizing labels—instead they shift the labels from a state of being to condition that can be overcome by gays. For example, throughout Elder Bednar's response, he re-labels homosexuality as a type of "challenge" (he used the word eight times in his response). This is not surprising since within the Church hierarchy they have also used disability, limitation, inclination, temptation, behavior, weakness, etc. to label LGBTQI members.
Regarding "challenges," to equate homosexuality as a challenge like someone with "physical limitations…with a body that is not fully functional," is inaccurate. Homosexuals and bisexuals do not have any limitations, they are fully-functioning. Where Elder Bednar would want to compare homosexuality and bisexuality to a blind person, a better comparison would be to compare them to someone who is born with perfect eyesight, but told they have to go through life with their eyes closed.
The issue for the Church is that they are stuck between what the world (empirical research) says about gender identity and sexuality, and what the Church teaches about the same. In speaking about their doctrine, Elder Bednar said:
…there is a divinely designed difference between a female spirit and a male spirit. You need to read and study over and over again the family proclamation. It teaches that gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
And as Elder Boyd K. Packer so infamously put it:
We teach a standard of moral conduct that will protect us from Satan's many substitutes or counterfeits for marriage. We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong. From the Book of Mormon we learn that "wickedness never was happiness."
Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, he is our father.
"Cleansing the Inner Vessel," Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, October 2010 General Conference. (The italicized portion was removed from the written text and replaced with "Remember, God is our Heavenly Father." The original can be heard in the video.)
Elder Bednar refers to two types of people who have physical limitations: 1) those who are "born with a body that is not fully functional" and 2) those who "have an inclination to be attracted to those of the same sex."
It is clear Elder Bednar believes there is a difference between attraction/inclination and behavior: those who do not act on their attraction are not homosexual because they can overcome their "tendencies." He says people have moral agency which is "the capacity to act…and we determine how to respond to the variety of challenges we experience in mortality through the proper exercise of our moral agency." By labeling homosexuality as a "challenge" and "inclination," he believes moral agency can overcome being gay.
Homosexuality is a thing, a label, whether the LDS Church accepts it or not. Homosexuality is more commonly broken into three groups: gays, lesbians and bisexuals. As defined by the American Psychological Association:
Research over several decades has demonstrated that sexual orientation ranges along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the other sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex. However, sexual orientation is usually discussed in terms of three categories: heterosexual (having emotional, romantic or sexual attractions to members of the other sex), gay/lesbian (having emotional, romantic or sexual attractions to members of one's own sex) and bisexual (having emotional, romantic or sexual attractions to both men and women).
"What is sexual orientation?" from the page, Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality, American Psychological Association. (emphasis ours)
Note that the definition uses the word "attraction" in it: homosexuality and bisexuality is not just acting on the attraction, as the Church wants its members to believe. "Same-sex attraction" has a label: either homosexuality or bisexuality. By the Church disregarding these labels (which most LGB people who are comfortable with their own sexuality give themselves), the Church is, in essence, making anyone outside the strict heterosexual norms, invisible to the Church, it's members and their god. Except when a homosexual person actually performs a homosexual act: at that point they become extremely visible to the Church leadership.
Why the semantic games are played is beyond us; since the Church already labels such LGB people as "same-sex attracted," just call them lesbians, gays or bisexuals. Additionally, according to the latest policy in the Church's Handbook 1, as soon as someone performs a gay, lesbian or bisexual act, they are labeled as a "sinner" and if living in a gay, lesbian or bisexual relationship (including legally married), an "apostate". (To be a bit snarky here, shouldn't the Church skip the label "apostate" and say commandment-averse people? Or the doctrinally disinclined?)
Elder Bednar does not eschew labels, he says that the label "homosexual" is an "inaccurate label" and then implies that a more accurate label is "sons and daughter of God." And such beings have moral agency. In other words, the label "homosexual" implies "just being that way" and an object to be acted upon. Whereas the Church's hierarchy wants LGB to know that they are rather agents that can act, and the action they need to take is "the proper exercise of [their] moral agency" to suppress their LGB attractions. (Emphasis ours.)
This begs the question: Who determines what is the proper exercising of moral agency, and what is not? Leaders of the LDS Church have long assumed the role as arbiters in matters of sex and sexuality. They have presumed to speak God's mind and will (see our piece, "As if they were speaking for God."). Elder Bednar states that "God the Eternal Father created…a plan for the eternal destiny and happiness for His children [and] that plan is halted in anything but a marriage between a man and a woman." And yet, there is no clear statement that anything they have spoken on sex and sexuality is indeed God's mind and will (with the exception of "The Family: A Proclamation to the World,: but even that is is not clearly defined as a revelation or doctrine). Like so many other of their words, one is left to wonder if what they say today will later be disavowed as a theory of the time, like the policy concerning blacks and their barring from being holders of the priesthood and entering the temple. (See information concerning current leaders disavowing earlier prophets' and apostles' racists policies and doctrine in the Church's official "Race and the Priesthood" essay..)
The standard of morality for opposite-sex attraction is quite different than it is for LGBs. A heterosexual can act on their natural feelings of attraction: before marriage they can old hands, hug and kiss the one they are in love with and after civil marriage they can engage in sexual relations—all without feelings of guilt or remorse that they are doing something unnatural. LGBs must suppress the identical natural feelings of attraction and are forbidden from acting on those feelings in even the most benign of ways, such as hand-holding. Even without acting on these feelings, Mormon homosexuals experience extreme anxiety and guilt for having feelings that deviate from the Church's prescribed way. And the thought of acting on such feelings, or the guilt and shame, whether self-inflicted or imposed from family and friends after they have acted on such feelings, have brought too many of them to think about or even carry through the ending of their lives.
Like Elder Packer said, "Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, he is our father." It is our contention that a loving God would not do that to anyone, and yet the Church does, as Elder Bednar clearly expresses:
The world teaches that we must be tolerant and accepting. There are some things we do not accept or tolerate.
And what, exactly are those things that "the world" accepts and tolerates that "we" do not? (Who, by the way, are the "we"—God? The Church's hierarchy? The members? All of the above?) In context, it is clear that he is speaking about homosexuality. "They" do not accept or tolerate homosexuality. And by extension, they do not accept or tolerate homosexuals. Because of this extension, the Church attempts to separate the act from the actor; to separate the sin from the sinner; to separate same-sex attraction/inclination from homosexuality. Elder Bednar attempted that when he said, "There are no homosexual members of the Church." But they cannot separate the attraction and feelings a person has for another from the label which identifies that attraction. Heterosexuals are attracted those of the opposite sex, homosexuals are attracted to those of the same sex and bisexuals both sexes. Homosexuals and bisexuals do not have "challenges," they have legitimate feelings of attractions that they were born with.
Since Elder Bednar knows that by saying they do not accept or tolerate homosexuals, he must somehow make it seem that they really do, so he says
We love all people with whatever challenge any person faces…we do not discriminate, and we are not bigots. We extend Christ-like love to all sons and daughters of God.
There really is no way to spin Elder Bednar's statements here to jibe with the words "There are some things we do not accept or tolerate." The word bigot is defined as
a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance
"bigot" from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, online.
If the word "hatred" is removed from the definition, the term bigot absolutely applies to the stance Elder Bednar and the Church takes. The definition uses the word intolerant twice. Bednar unequivocally states that they "do not accept or tolerate" homosexuality. The very definition of bigotry.
He also says that "we do not discriminate" and yet the definition for discriminate is
to make a difference in treatment or favor on a basis other than individual merit
"discriminate" from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, online.
Homosexuals and bisexuals are undoubtedly treated differently than heterosexuals in the Church when it comes to disciplining members who have engaged in sexually activities, especially those who are legally married. Even when at the attraction/inclination stage, if a member were to confess this to the bishop, they would be treated differently than if a member were to confess their attraction/inclination for someone of the same sex.
As much as one would like to spin Elder Bednar's "There are no homosexuals in the Church," comment in a positive light, he said too many problematic things to easily brush aside. He and the Church (collectively and all too often individually) marginalizes a large number of members, putting them in a position in which they have to disavow their God-approved sexual attractions.