Earlier this year, I tweeted out a question to my humble stack of Twitter followers: “If I started a podcast dedicated to navigating LGBT+ issues with a focus on supporting doctrine, would you be interested in listening?” I had gained a small posse of followers since a screenshot of another tweet about my mixed-orientation marriage went semi-viral.
The response I got from my question surprised me then, but it certainly wouldn’t now. The general sentiment was this: we feel worn out and tired of this topic, and another podcast about it seems unnecessary. I have complete compassion for this reaction. We as a society went from LGBT+ issues being wrongfully obscured to those being our primary cultural battleground in the space of just a few years. They continue to be the primary lens through which most other cultural battles are fought, both in and outside of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Out of this focus on LGBT+ issues—and progressive ideals at large—various influencer Latter-day Saints have become popular on social media platforms and continue to garner a great amount of influence on the sub-Gen Z population.
In the spirit of civil disagreement, I’d like to outline some of the limited ideas, half-truths, and doctrinal deviations that have sprung out of this movement of progressive Latter-day Saint influencers. I believe there is importance in pointing to specific examples in order to be clear about my claims, so I will be drawing critical attention to two specific individuals. In so doing, however, my intention is not to spark more unnecessary division. Instead, my goal is to focus on their ideas, because ideas transcend people. I also have no evidence that these influencers are anything but good people doing their best. As Latter-day Saints, we’re called to judge truth claims, not the people making them, and that will guide my commentary below.
It should also be noted that I am speaking mainly to active or believing members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have complete understanding and compassion for those who, sometimes despite their own wishes, find it difficult or impossible to believe the account of the First Vision and the church that has been born of it. Just like Joseph Smith himself said, “I don’t blame anyone for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I would not have believed it myself.” I’m grateful for my testimony and wish everyone had the same theological assurance I have. When it comes to those who have or at least claim to have had that spiritual witness, my compassion starts to wane when these individuals actively seek out and encourage ideas that are explicitly outside the bounds the Lord has set for our ultimate happiness. With that preamble in mind, I’d like to turn my attention to podcasters Charlie Bird and Ben Schilaty.
Questions about “Questions from the Closet”
Ben and Charlie host the gospel-themed, LGBT+ focused podcast, “Questions from the Closet.” They invite a number of guests to discuss their experiences navigating questions of identity within the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In many of their episodes, I find myself enlightened and engaged with their message, and I often find myself sympathizing with them and their guests; however, I always come away with the feeling that I should be disheartened or confused about my place as a gay Latter-day Saint. I feel the urge to question my membership in Christ’s church because I have a natural attraction to members of my same-sex. This is largely because of many of the ideas they further that contain assumptions contrary to the gospel. They are usually careful to clarify that they aren’t prescribing any advice to anyone, but in their discussions, life choices contrary to gospel standards are consistently buoyed up as legitimate options that are acceptable to choose while striving to live the gospel. How is one supposed to give their all to follow the Savior when the potentiality of eternal truths shifting dramatically hangs constantly over their head?
How is one supposed to give their all to follow the Savior when the potentiality of eternal truths shifting dramatically hangs constantly over their head?
“I felt like I should date guys when I was praying.” Charlie related. Later, he further explains. “How could I ever know what it’s like to be gay if I’m never in a relationship with anybody?” By “anybody,” it’s clear he’s referring to other men. Ben shares this sentiment a few minutes later when recounting his experience dating a previous boyfriend.
“I felt like I was meant to have that relationship with Jordan,” he said.
Again, I bring this up not to condemn Ben or Charlie but to hopefully examine more openly the unorthodox views they represent. I don’t know their hearts, but they both seem to be well-meaning and genuine individuals. I also don’t claim to know the intricacies of their personal revelations, but I do know they are teaching something completely contrary to what prophets have counseled.
In the 2010 October General Conference, then Elder Dallin H. Oaks declared the following:
“Unfortunately, it is common for persons who are violating God’s commandments or disobedient to the counsel of their priesthood leaders to declare that God has revealed to them that they are excused from obeying some commandment or from following some counsel. Such persons may be receiving revelation or inspiration, but it is not from the source they suppose.”
In Doctrine in Covenants 121:36 we read:
“… the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.”
In the April 2015 General Conference, Bishop Gérald Caussé said:
“My brothers and sisters, never do anything to risk the loss of this precious and marvelous gift—the companionship of the Holy Ghost.”
And as recently as 2021’s October General Conference, President Henry B. Eyring shared the following:
“It is hard to keep the Lord’s commandments without faith and trust in Him. As some lose their faith in the Savior, they may even attack His counsel, calling good evil and evil good. To avoid this tragic error, it is crucial that any personal revelation we receive be consonant with the teachings of the Lord and His prophets.”
Quotes related to this common theme could take up the rest of the article and then some, but I’ll invite the reader to study further.
It’s clear that God wants us within the reach of the Holy Spirit. The idea that God would ever lead us to do something contrary to His commandments and Plan of Happiness, and thus removing ourselves from the power and influence of the Holy Ghost, goes completely contrary to consistent and repeated teachings across both living prophets and ancient scriptures.
Priorities in Our Ministry
In our righteous efforts to understand the perspectives of our LGBT+ brothers and sisters, we should never let the strong emotional dimension of the matter manipulate us into giving up eternal truths. Another common theme throughout Ben and Charlie’s content is one of caution when addressing LGBT+ issues within the Church. Undoubtedly having the wellbeing of LGBT+ youth in mind, Ben and Charlie consistently hold that we shouldn’t speak firmly when it comes to the nature of eternal families and teachings about LGBT+ romantic relationships running contrary to God’s plan. At one of Ben’s recent Chicago area firesides, he suggested that “we don’t know a lot of things” and that the restoration is incomplete. The implication was that, based on the question that had been asked, some of the eternal truths about the plan of salvation may not be eternal truths.
In an interview they did on another podcast, Faith Matters, they had a conversation that provides a window into this train of thought. At around the 18-minute mark, they are asked by one of the hosts how “helpful” it is to be reminded about doctrine regarding marriage and family. Charlie answers first:
“That’s never helped me once. If anything, it has pushed me further away.”
Ben later chimes in that “Other people’s sins shouldn’t matter, because we’re all sinners, and we’re all doing things that we could do better.”
The general idea throughout the rest of the conversation was that because we don’t find ourselves perpetually calling everyone out for their sins in personal interactions, why would we ever need to talk about gay relationships as sinful in nature?
This mindset is popular in the intersection of the gospel and academia, and I fully believe it comes out of a desire to be compassionate. But what is more compassionate: muddying the waters of gospel standards or clearly stating them in a loving way?
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our default concern should be to teach correct principles and eternal truth in order to set others up to be successful and happy. Within that framework and upon that foundation, we can then do our best to figure out how to tactfully and lovingly communicate those truths to those who find them difficult to hear. Especially if you’ve received a spiritual witness that this is Christ’s church on earth, it’s intellectually inconsistent at best and morally bereft at worst to preach the moral relativism that is so prevalent in progressive circles.
Ben and Charlie represent the ever-growing notion that God is more concerned with our temporal comfort than our eternal progression. The perpetuation of these ideas promotes a buffet-style approach to the gospel, where we are free to choose which commandments we follow without experiencing the natural consequences. Ideally, however, our love and concern for our LGBT+ brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, neighbors, friends, and acquaintances should extend beyond a short-sighted (and perhaps futile) attempt to ease their burden in the moment. Their eternal identities and potential should be at the center of the discourse, as with any other individual. As Sister Joy D. Jones recently taught last April “Eternity is the wrong thing to be wrong about.”
This is underscored by two recent studies done by the Utah Department of Human Services— Division of Substance Abuse & Mental Health and researchers at Bowling Green State University. As summarized by Walter Schumm, “Latter-day Saint LGBT+ youths … had lower levels of reported depression and suicidality than nonreligious LGBT+ youths.” It’s common to see the claim that religion causes LGBT+ youth to contemplate and commit suicide at greater rates, but underreported studies such as these dispute that claim. Living the gospel of Jesus Christ makes you better off, not worse, and it’s clear that is also the case for LGBT+ youth.
A Personal Application
Even as an impressionable, insecure, sexually confused teenager, I had a deep desire to live gospel truths. Like everyone else, this desire began as a duty-driven attempt to do what was right and make my parents proud. As I grew older and had more life experiences, however, the validity of these gospel truths was manifested to me countless times in a variety of ways and situations. I truly can’t imagine the heartache and confusion that would’ve plagued my mind had these notions of moral relativism been adopted by more Church members around me at that time. I would have existed in a paranoid state of religious limbo if I had heard that God may, in fact, actually inspire me to go against my covenants, or that He may ultimately lead His prophets to receive altogether different revelation one day when it comes to eternal marriage. How is one supposed to give their all to follow the Savior when the potentiality of eternal truths shifting dramatically hangs constantly over their head?
To help visualize this, imagine a violent whirlpool in open waters. On either side of a whirlpool, you have settled water that flows freely and relatively calmly. The whirlpool draws water from either side, enveloping it into its never-ending, turbulent mess of spinning water and sediment. For the sake of the analogy, picture pure, orthodox beliefs on one side of the whirlpool and directly opposing, worldly philosophies on the other. On either side of the whirlpool, we can find ideas and worldviews that allow us to feel somewhat comfortable and secure in our beliefs. (In my experience, the gospel provides greater clarity and peace as a backbone of reason, compared with worldly philosophies, but that’s beside the point.) As we engage in the mingling of eternal doctrine with opposing world philosophies, we draw opposing ideas from either side into our own whirlpool of ideologies that fight with each other to create something convulsive and confusing.
Now, this clearly isn’t to promote the idea that anyone who’s struggling to reconcile personal beliefs with gospel standards should abandon the gospel altogether. Rather, it’s an encouragement for all of us to examine the beliefs we hold—political, religious, or otherwise—that contradict the simple truths of the gospel. If we find doctrines like the nature of eternal families difficult to hear, what personal beliefs are we harboring that could be making us feel that way?
To members who feel they are helping young men and women by advancing a relativistic view of the gospel, please consider how unsettling and damaging that can end up being—despite all your better intentions. It would have been devastating to me, and I believe it has been devastating to many teenagers that have fallen under your influence. It’s human nature to get caught up in our temporal struggles and forget the expansive nature of our eternal future.
It’s human nature to get caught up in our temporal struggles and forget the expansive nature of our eternal future.
It doesn’t seem fair to ask our LGBT+ brothers and sisters to either remain celibate or enter into a mixed-orientation marriage. While I’ve personally found complete peace, fulfillment, and joy in my mixed-orientation marriage, I know that isn’t the case for every gay Latter-day Saint. While this is such a difficult thing to ask, it doesn’t differ wildly (contrary to loud claims otherwise) from what God asks from all of his children with varying life situations and challenges. It isn’t fair when we lose a loved one to cancer or find ourselves in its clutches; it isn’t fair that many of us live in such luxury while so many of our brothers and sisters suffer in poverty; it isn’t fair that we in the U.S. and elsewhere enjoy freedom while others are oppressed by dictatorships; it isn’t fair when we deal with infertility; it isn’t fair when we unexpectedly lose our source of income, right when rent is going up; and it certainly wasn’t fair when my wife and I had to bury our firstborn son after he was born 16 weeks early and died weeks later of a sepsis-spawned heart block. The test of discipleship is not a fair one, but it is a just and merciful one. We are promised that no matter what unique and hurtful trials we face, our reward of “all that the Father has” will outweigh any heartache we feel now. And we are reassured further that through His grace, He will provide comfort and peace along the way.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said it best in his last General Conference address, kicking off the October 2021 conference: “When difficult things are asked of us, even things contrary to the longings of our heart, remember that the loyalty we pledge to the cause of Christ is to be the supreme devotion of our lives.”
It’s human nature to get caught up in our temporal struggles and forget the expansive nature of our eternal future. My hope is that we can all recognize the common temptation of the adversary to somehow exempt ourselves from the Plan of Salvation across our many varied circumstances. I’m not exempt from the outpouring of blessings as a direct and natural result of living the commandments and following the Plan of Salvation, and neither are any other LGBT+ Church members.