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Have Progressives Really Won this Contest of Ideas?

A response to Patrick Mason on gender and sexuality, with suggested readings for those unfamiliar with the robust rationale for Biblical marriage provided by Latter-day Saints and many scholars.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

We enjoyed the recent Public Square exchange between Jacob Hess and Patrick Mason and appreciated the way both of them discussed potentially difficult issues with respect and open-mindedness. We found a lot to like with Brother Mason’s views but were stopped short by something he said about the Church’s long-standing teachings on gender, sexuality, and family. Patrick articulated a view held by some of our fellow Latter-day Saints, as well as many of our doctrinal detractors: 

When it comes to gender, sexuality, and marriage, I think that over the past two decades, liberals and progressives have done a better job than conservatives of making persuasive arguments for their positions. I think conservatives have often been flat-footed and have resorted to defending their positions based purely on authority or tradition (both of which are central to the conservative worldview, of course). Frankly, liberals and progressives have, in recent decades, won the contest of ideas.

Patrick is reading the cultural landscape well when he notes the dominance of progressive views in these areas. In the Latter-day Saint space alone, left-leaning writers have been active in promulgating multiple book-length treatments either explicitly defending same-sex marriage or sidelining the centrality of male-female marriage in Christian faith. And more broadly, the progressive ideological offensive has been impressive, while defenses of the truths about gender and sexuality found in The Family: A Proclamation to the World are more difficult to find, particularly if one is not looking for them. 

One reason for this is that many mainstream publishers and writers either oppose the Church’s position or, more commonly, just avoid discussing and defending it altogether. And even within our faith, when was the last time you’ve seen a book-length defense of the Church’s positions on marriage, sexuality, and gender at faithful publication houses or by anyone teaching at Church Universities?

So, yes—Patrick has a point. The disparity he describes is partially correct, especially since progressives have won the decades-long battle to shift public opinion. This has been a patient, long-term, and concerted campaign, followed carefully as detailed by activists and advertising experts Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen (writing as Erastes Pill) in a 1987 blueprint document called “The Overhauling of Straight America” and expanded in Kirk’s 1990 book After the Ball. The spectacular success can be seen in Gallup surveys, which show support for legal recognition of same-sex marriage on par with heterosexual marriage climbing from a mere 27% in 1996 to an all-time high of 71% last June. 

Seemingly with the wind at their backs, progressive writers have been much more assertive in promoting their views and have dominated cultural consciousness in a way that makes it seem like the ideological contest is over.  

There is more to the story, however.

For instance, it’s worth spending a little more time asking why conservatives are sometimes more hesitant to write and share on these topics. And when they do, are they really only pointing back to authority and tradition? 

Strong incentives not to share. A sense of progressive dominance is no doubt reinforced by conservative scholars and commentators too often feeling reluctant to speak out because of concerns about academic or social opposition. Consistently, Blake Fisher wrote last year wrote about this hesitance to speak among Latter-day Saint sexual minorities who embrace the teachings of the Church:

LGBT+/SSA Latter-day Saints who are “all-in” (fully committed to Jesus Christ, His Church, and revealed doctrine) are engaging less with public conversations about their experiences for multiple reasons. This is partly due to exhaustion with patronizing pushback from other LGBT+/SSA individuals and “allies.” The desire for privacy also arises from personal revelation, an increased focus on other aspects of life, and a desire to avoid “story-weaponization.”

That doesn’t remove the responsibility for the faithful to raise their voices more and with greater frequency. But even when they do (and they do a lot more than is being noted, as we will outline below), current societal trends make it far less likely that their arguments end up being passed along and known. This further siloing of more orthodox thought makes the case for the Church’s position seem less defensible than it really is. For instance, Patrick himself appears to be almost wholly unfamiliar with a great deal of work that has been done, which spans the gamut from scientific research, to moral philosophy, to legal arguments, to multimedia productions meant for popular consumption. Could that be, in part, because a secularizing higher education both fails to introduce people to these ideas and actively disincentives people from seeking them out? Especially if your own intuitions and preferences are not aligned with these truths, it would seem highly unlikely for anyone to come into contact with these kinds of resources.   

LGBT+ activists and advocates have been so successful at branding orthodox views (or, might we say, “unorthodox”) as “homophobic” or “hateful” that it’s little wonder that academics who wish to be taken seriously in the larger academy would seek to distance themselves from them.

The problem for those who start with their preferred socio-political worldview is that they are likely to sustain the Church only when it agrees with their worldview.

All this explains why we appreciate Patrick’s stated interest in wanting to “hear all the ideas”—something that’s clearly not true of many scholars today. For those who share this openness, what follows is an annotated study guide for any who may be under the impression that the Church’s teachings on gender, sexuality, and family have somehow been “defeated” by the Church’s opposition in popular culture and/or academia (as opposed to merely being drowned out or abandoned by the popular culture and academia). We will explore these readings grouped in the three areas highlighted in Brother Mason’s comments: sexuality, gender, and marriage.

Beyond the political bifurcation. It’s true that many people operating with more typical conservative intuitions of authority and tradition have often appealed to those sources in their efforts to defend the Church’s teachings. But lest you think we’re about to review a list of “right wing” or exclusively “conservative” texts below, one final clarification is crucial. In so many of these discussions, we’re still taking for granted an unnecessary binary—the idea that there are basically two ideological camps: the liberal and progressives camp generally allied on the left against the conservative camp on the right. The problem with this binary of left and right is that it sidelines and overlooks another stance—that of orthodoxy. 

In an article series on conservative and liberal religion, Dan wrote last year:

Every belief system—including secular systems like science—has an orthodoxy, which is a way of thinking that allows the belief system to fulfill its promises. In the case of science, scientific orthodoxy is to experiment using the scientific method, leading to results that are objective and replicable. As Latter-day Saints, we have a belief system that, from the early days of the restoration, has offered connection to God, experience with the gifts of the spirit, continuous divine influence in the Church, a system of divinely-ordained leadership, and a loving, supportive community that can turn outward and spread God’s influence into the world. Latter-day Saint orthodoxy, then, is an approach to faith—sometimes conservative and sometimes liberal—that enables us to experience these promised fruits of our religion. (additional emphasis our own)

We speak from a position of orthodoxy within a Latter-day Saint worldview—not progressive, not conservative—firmly believing that there is a right way to view the Church’s teachings on gender, sexuality, and family—one essentially in line with God’s own words and will. And in parallel, our starting point here is sustaining: the basic commitment to give church leadership the benefit of the doubt. This commitment to sustain is especially relevant when Church leaders are speaking consistently, with a united voice, and over an extended period of time. There are few areas of church teachings where these patterns are more apparent than in the Church’s teachings on gender, sexuality, and family, much as many might wish otherwise

The key point here is that socio-political progressives may be more aligned with Church doctrine on some points, while socio-political conservatives may be more aligned with the Church on other points—but clearly established Church doctrine becomes the starting point, rather than any particular socio-political worldview. The problem for those who start with their preferred socio-political worldview is that they are likely to sustain the Church only when it agrees with their worldview and to be critical of the Church when it disagrees with them. As President Dallin H. Oaks has articulated, “Those who govern their thoughts and actions solely by the principles of liberalism or conservatism or intellectualism cannot be expected to agree with all of the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As for me, I find some wisdom in liberalism, some wisdom in conservatism, and much truth in intellectualism—but I find no salvation in any of them.”

By the way, something interesting happens when we shift our thinking from conservative-liberal to orthodox-unorthodox. We find that there are allies of various aspects of the Church’s position all across the ideological spectrum. Far from its boring and stodgy reputation, orthodoxy, as Neal A. Maxwell taught us long ago, is a fertile, refreshing, and continually surprising intellectual and spiritual undertaking. That’s why, while we are both believing and sustaining Latter-day Saints, we will sometimes be citing non-theists and others who hold views that, in some areas, may be actively hostile to the restored gospel. Truth is truth, whether it is spoken by friends or enemies of our faith.

May we, then, seek truth together, rather than resist any particular view due to overactive socio-political hypervigilance. As is clear below, books are only one resource to consider, with a great number of other genres worth examining. Unlike some other articles that we might just read through and ignore the hyperlinks if we really want to become familiar with the ecosystem of orthodox arguments, readers should click through and read or watch the hyperlinked content in order to fully grasp the points being made. We are merely annotating key references here in a kind of guided tour. 

1. Sexuality

Although discussed popularly as an obvious and taken-for granted reality, it’s worth noting at the outset long-standing debates about what sexual orientation even is. In recent years, as science has continued to erode some of the simplistic and problematic constructs of sexual orientation and identity, lesbian-identified psychologist, Lisa Diamond, and a progressive professor of constitutional law, Clifford Rosky, both of the University of Utah, have worked to develop and articulate a case for LGBTQ rights that doesn’t rely on the sympathies of the “born gay” thesis, given that the science doesn’t support it. Additionally, Michael W. Hannon, writing from a Christian perspective, outlines the moral problems with sexual orientation as a concept in his provocatively titled essay “Against Heterosexuality.” Some of these ideas are reaching a larger audience, as you can see here and here.

Why does any of this matter? Our own years of careful observation have led us to the conviction that the ability and willingness to follow church teachings on sexuality have more to do with how we frame our sexuality rather than the intensity or character of our sexual desire. It’s not so much what our sexual feelings are that defines success here, but how we think about our sexuality. Even so, we hardly ever think about how we think. BYU-I Professor Jeffrey Thayne helps us correct that problem in this fascinating presentation on worldviews, using the Proclamation on the Family as an example. An accessible book-length treatment of many of these ideas is also found in philosophy professor James Smith’s How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor

This is why we consider deeper questions of identity foundational to any discussion of sexuality. In 2011, Yale professor Joshua Knobe discussed his and his colleagues’ research on competing notions of identity and how they relate to sexuality in his New York Times article, “In Search of the True Self.” In our view, Carl Trueman’s book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is essential reading for understanding the intellectual pedigree of modern notions of identity. (For those who want to sample his thesis before diving into the book, you can watch Trueman present portions of his book’s thesis here, here, and here). 

Far from mere philosophical debates, there are distinctive personal and practical consequences for the particular identity narrative we embrace. For a rigorous survey of population survey data demonstrating that LGBT+ identities are increasing, and are strongly associated with both progressive political leanings and poorer mental health, see Eric Kaufmann’s study, “Born This Way? The Rise of LGBT as a Social and Political Identity.” We’ve also weighed in on these competing notions of identity, in Jeff’s piece entitled “Whose Image are You Seeking in Your Countenance?” and Dan’s series of essays, “Our Deepening Divide Over Identity,” “Intersectional Anger on the Left and Right,” and “The Only True Love of Self.” 

Identity questions aside, is it ever proper for a society to privilege married heterosexual behavior above other forms of sexual expression—especially one that forbids enshrining any particular religious belief in legislation or public policy? Latter-day Saint writer Brian Sabey has compiled eight entirely secular and non-religious reasons why establishing this form of sexual expression as the preferred social norm makes sense. Activist thinkers might object to the presence of any kind of social norm as inherently oppressive, but in fact social norms are essential to any functioning society, as this primer explains thoroughly. Once we understand that, then the important question for society to consider is whether certain norms are good for society or harmful.

“I find some wisdom in liberalism, some wisdom in conservatism, and much truth in intellectualism—but I find no salvation in any of them.” President Dallin H. Oaks 

In the larger culture war over homosexuality, slogans like “born that way” and “nature not nurture” were used to argue that sexual orientation wasn’t chosen and, therefore, same-sex behavior should have no moral opprobrium attached to it. (Implicit in this argument was the idea that what you feel should dictate how you act, in harmony with the larger goals of the sexual revolution.) While this was definitely preferable to the formerly dominant view of homosexuality as a disease or mental disorder, it’s important to note that both of these (seeing homosexuality either as a disease or as an immutable attribute) were also at odds with the traditional religious view of sexuality, which is that it’s something you do, not something you are. This also explains a common way traditionally religious Christians, Jews, and Muslims can talk past their progressive interlocutors and even cause unintended offense because when the former criticize homosexuality, they are usually referring to behavior, whereas the latter usually understand it as an essential and unchangeable aspect of one’s being, which is very hard not to take personally. (Carl Trueman nicely explains the problem here.)

But is it even true that sexual attractions cannot ever change? No. Despite what you have heard and how it has been portrayed, all objective researchers who have studied the question have discovered that, for some people, it absolutely does. Sometimes that change is dramatic so that the direction of attractions shifts. And other times, this is merely a shift in the intensity of the attractions, or even a broadening of attractions, for example, from exclusively homosexual to a more bisexual orientation. We explored this in our recent article “A Few Questions Before You Try to Change The Church.” A more rigorous academic discussion of this phenomenon can be found in the work of Lisa Diamond whom we mentioned previously. One presentation by Professor Diamond is here, though many others are available. Finally, we recommend the recent podcast discussion “Is Hormonal Birth Control Causing More Women To Become Bisexual?” for understanding how women’s physiology leads to a more fluid experience of sexual orientation than is experienced by men. 

A helpful discussion of the various dimensions and complexities of sexuality, including attraction/aversion, orientation, identity, fixity, and fluidity, is found in Ty Mansfield’s 2014 FAIR Conference address, “‘Mormons can be gay, they just can’t do gay’? An LDS Perspective.” We also recommend a valuable follow-up discussion by him, “Loving Truth and Truly Loving: Mapping the Problems and Possibilities in the Latter-day Saint/LGBTQ+ Conversation” from the 2022 FAIR Conference. 

To be very clear, these citations are not prescriptive and not an attempt to dictate to anyone the nature of their specific experience of sexual orientation (in fact, the extremely varied, changeable, and complex nature of these things is one of the reasons we generally are opposed to putting sexualities in neatly-labeled but ever-expanding boxes like ‘L’, ‘G’, ‘B’, ‘Q’, ‘A’, ‘P’, etc.). Furthermore, there is plenty we still do not understand about sexuality. What these readings can do is help to expand our understanding of sexual orientation and identity to see the complexities that are often missed by people entrenched in the simplistic and reductionist culturally-dominant paradigm.

2. Gender

Gender is now the most heated battleground in the culture wars, and language is one of its primary battlegrounds, as Dr. Valerie Hudson recently observed. Yet we must not neglect the very real experience of gender dysphoria that absolutely needs to be recognized and understood better than it has been in the past. (If it was recognized at all in the past, it was usually only to be mocked.) This experience where an individual feels a keen dissonance between their biological sex and inner sense of gender is sometimes described as a feeling that one has been “born in the wrong body.” It is a human experience worthy of compassion and understanding. 

We believe it’s possible to do just this, while simultaneously seeing with concern the deliberate deconstruction of gender as something doing real damage for these same precious brothers and sisters. The significant consequences involved have led to pushback from surprising places. Camille Paglia, Martina Navratilova, J. K. Rowling, and feminist icon Germaine Greer are among the most prominent critics of gender theory coming from politically liberal and feminist ranks. Agree or disagree, their critiques are worth considering. Female-to-male transsexual Aaron Kimberly identifies queer theory as a narrative that carries a significant personally damaging impact, and Paul Kraus points out its underappreciated connection to Marxism. (Juxtaposing these Marxist roots with Miquel Misse’s discussion of profit motivating some of the actors involved highlights an unexpected alliance between Marxist activism and Capitalism).

There’s no question that, presently, the medicalized approach to gender incongruence is supreme. The United States federal government, several other countries, prominent medical and psychological associations, and prestigious scientific journals all endorse what is called “gender affirmative care” and confidently claim the concept of humans as either male or female (the binary nature of sex) is false. They go on to assert that the research overwhelmingly shows that what they call “gender-affirming hormones” (including puberty blockers) and “gender confirmation surgery” have high patient satisfaction, reduce gender dysphoria, and at any rate, aren’t optional anyway because the only alternative is inevitable suicide. 

With such an impressive array of consensus, surely this must reflect an incredibly robust, broadly replicated evidence base? Not at all. A more careful look at the research shows that mental health outcomes are ambivalent at best, and some interventions may actually worsen mental health. Indeed, the sex researcher James Cantor (who would surely disagree with many of our points in #1) issued in 2018 a thorough “fact check” of the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement “Ensuring Comprehensive Care and Support for Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children and Adolescents,” showing that the research cited does not support the conclusions they make. (And, to the earlier point, even though his article was well-supported, Mr. Cantor could find no reputable journal willing to publish his rebuttal, so it can only be found, self-published, on his own website.)

There’s no question that in the short term, most people who have transitioned report high satisfaction and improved mental health. Longer term and with more objective measures, the research is much less clear. One of the most prominent and highly touted studies showing improvement in mental health actually demonstrated only slight improvements in mental health. And when the data were more closely evaluated, the entire study was corrected to show “no advantage of surgery in relation to subsequent mood or anxiety disorder-related health care visits or prescriptions or hospitalizations following suicide attempts in that comparison.” The authors also admitted their original conclusion was “too strong.” (Of course, the correction to the study got nowhere near the attention garnered by the original study).

Manhattan Institute fellow Leor Sapir went through all sixteen of the best studies purporting to show an advantage to “gender-affirming care” for young people. Try comparing for yourself Sapir’s careful critique of them with the initial claims about these studies by an advocate of the gender affirmative model. To most fair-minded readers, it quickly becomes clear these studies are low-quality, of limited applicability, and have much lower certainty than they are usually portrayed to have in the popular press (even when they are cited by most scientific and regulatory bodies). A recent review of the two foundational Dutch studies which inaugurated pediatric gender transition likewise demonstrates fatal flaws in the research design involved.  The authors remind us that “the burden of proof—demonstrating that a treatment does more good than harm—is on those promoting the intervention, not on those concerned about the harms.” (Emphasis in original.) More broadly, Dr. Jay Cohn, an endocrinologist, has published a comprehensive and yet highly readable review of the many problems with pediatric gender transition.

Regarding the claim that “gender dysphoric individuals must be allowed to transition or they will commit suicide,” Sapir has another article discussing the many highly problematic aspects of this dangerous and harmful claim. 

Widening our lens to the broader issues of public policy, Sapir describes how many countries and health care systems are backing off the affirmative model and moving towards a more cautious, “talk therapy first” model. Riveting documentaries like the Swedish-produced Trains Train (with part two here) and the Dutch-language “Transgender Regret” (where this medical approach was originally pioneered) probably played an important role in this. Neither of these is in English, but they do have English subtitles, and we highly recommend both of them.

These documentaries were among the first to recognize the growing number of stories of people who have experienced what we might call deconversion from gender ideology, and speaking from their own personal experience, they are directly challenging narratives of the innateness of transgender identity.

Known as detransitioners and desisters, you can read about them in the Quillette article series, “When Sons Become Daughters,” along with the stories of detransitioners chronicled by Benjamin Boyce. Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Damage (a good presentation distilling her findings is here) and Deborah Soh’s book The End of Gender; the YouTube channel chronicling the insights of a gradual desister, “Call Me Sam,” and the forthcoming documentary “Affirmation Generation” as some examples of this apparently growing phenomenon. Scott Newgent chronicles some of the underappreciated side effects of female-to-male surgeries.

Detransioned commentator Michelle Alleva offers on her substack a compelling visual before-and-after representation of the process she underwent, shifting from a narrative where “trans” served as the overriding narrative that explained all of her life experiences to a more thorough and patient investigation of a more varied set of explanations. Similarly, Chloe Cole describes how recklessly she was initially assessed for her gender dysphoria, how easily she was prescribed cross-sex hormones, how little follow up she received, and then how actively hostile her health care providers became when she eventually decided to desist.

In a striking counterexample, the patient deliberation involved in thoroughly examining the varied factors contributing to gender dysphoria in one young woman was highlighted in another remarkable article by the psychologist mother of a teen girl: “To My Daughter’s Therapist: You Were Wrong.” 

There are many other aspects of this discussion worth considering. For instance, evolutionary biologist Colin Wright explains how sex is binary, not a spectrum, as many now assert. For further explorations, we recommend these websites, which compile research and discussion from secular sources on gender issues that do not follow the dominant narrative: The Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine, Genspect, and 4th Wave Now

There is no question that many of the stories and research we cite in this section are hotly disputed by trans activists insofar as they are aware of them. Agree or disagree, however, our purpose in highlighting them here is to demonstrate that the case for the dominant view of gender is far from settled or proven. 

On a practical level, what can be done? No one wants these individuals to suffer unnecessarily from gender dysphoria or from potentially permanent side effects from medications like puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, let alone surgeries that may not resolve the root of the problem anyway (as even the New York Times has now admitted). And yet anything except medicalization is instantly dismissed as harmful “conversion therapy” that should be avoided at all costs. Still, the tide is shifting. Psychotherapists Stella O’Malley and Sasha Ayad have a popular podcast that offers many constructive ideas to fellow therapists, parents, and individuals, as does the SEGM, as linked above. The Gender Exploratory Therapy Association recently released a guide for therapists treating youth and may even be able to help you find a more helpful therapist who won’t just rush to affirmation and transition. These can be quite difficult to find through normal means because of the threats made to therapists who do not push surgical and medical treatments. In fact, it may even be illegal in some jurisdictions. 

Other kinds of interventions might be helpful in the treatment of gender dysphorias, such as those developed for derealization and depersonalization disorder. Cynthia Breheny describes how her serendipitous encounter with phototherapy, a treatment developed initially for body dysmorphias like anorexia, almost entirely resolved her gender dysphoria. Hers and other stories encourage people struggling with this experience to keep looking and keep trying. As a last resort, it is important to point out that the Church does not counsel against the use of cross-sex hormones as a way to treat gender dysphoria, so long as it is not used to transition, and some have reported it to be helpful at reducing their dysphoria. Even for this purpose, however, it should only be undertaken cautiously with close follow-up because these medications are powerful and have potentially serious side effects, especially with longterm use.

Striking a healthy balance, the Church’s website affirms our doctrine on gender while also acknowledging that feelings of gender incongruence are a real human experience. Church leaders and members face a unique challenge in maintaining clarity about the real dangers in the aforementioned societal trends around gender while also providing a welcoming community that can serve as a loving context wherein people can process gender dysphoria and other challenging life experiences. 

There is nuance, there is complexity, and there is lots and lots of room for careful, compassionate listening to each individual’s unique story and suffering. As disciples of Christ, we should practice grace and compassion in response to people’s efforts to navigate these life experiences, with the expectation that we and the people we seek to welcome will not always get it right as we learn and practice a principled inclusion based in both love and doctrinal clarity. 

3. Marriage

Turning to questions of marriage and procreation, prophets have repeatedly taught that the Church’s teachings on marriage and procreation are doctrine and will never change. For an in-depth exploration of this, we recommend the article by Cassandra Hedelius and Jeff, “Treasuring All That God Has Revealed.” For a foundational discussion of the purpose of marriage from a not specifically Latter-day Saint perspective, we recommend What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, by Robert George, Ryan Anderson, and Sherif Girgis. And two anonymous Latter-day Saint writers have created anonymously (to our earlier point) comprehensive websites articulating key insights in the marriage debate— and What is Marriage?—in a way that helps people explore for themselves some of the various competing perspectives involved (and without a single “because the prophet said so!”).

In recent years, with the embrace of same-sex marriage in Western countries, there has been an accompanying stream of popular messaging to persuade society that children do not benefit in any unique way from being parented by their married, biological mother and father. This notion is thoroughly challenged in stories gathered in Them Before Us, by children’s rights activists Katy Faust and Stacy Manning, with an accompanying website (and empirically supported by this study). See also Heather Berwick and Robert Oscar Lopez’s experiences being raised by same-sex parents, along with this article by Daniel James Devine chronicling a number of similar stories. 

The hostility of the academic and popular culture to this idea was shown by the unwarranted criticism Mark Regnerus received when he first published his well-designed 2012 study of United States children showing poorer outcomes among children reared in same-sex relationships. This fierce pushback came even though his study was much better constructed than many of the studies the American Psychological Association relied on purporting to show no harm or even benefits to children reared in same-sex relationships. Dr. Regnerus’s findings have subsequently been replicated with unbiased samples of population data from the UK, Canada, and Australia.

We need to underscore here that in no place does the Church teach that same-sex couples are bad parents, and that is not what we are saying either. (Katy Faust effectively rebuts this accusation here). It is also obviously true that heterosexual pairing is no guarantee of good parenting, since painfully many heterosexual couples likewise become abysmal parents to vulnerable children.

Pope John Paul II, in a series of 129 lectures (and later collected in his encyclical Humanae Vitae), lays out how gender and sexual morality are grounded in natural law and our physical bodies. It is a rich, comprehensive, and persuasive explanation of the traditionalist views of the points in this essay and many other related matters. We might even dare call it prophetic, as it anticipated most of the later disputes about sexuality and gender in a sort of “pre-buttal.” For those not quite ready to make a commitment to read the entire book, here is a brief overview by Christopher West. Even our non-Christian brothers and sisters have made admirable and insightful contributions from their own religious frameworks, and many of their insights are applicable to our faith, which demonstrates the universality of these concepts, even as they seem fringe to the modern west. Here are examples from Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam.

In a similar manner, some dear friends in our own faith put together website, which has every single portion of the family proclamation supported by (a) Scripture and church leaders’ statements, (b) scientific research, and (c) personal stories. It’s a tremendously valuable reference work that is helpful for family home evening lessons and other classes.

There is nuance, there is complexity, and there is lots and lots of room for careful, compassionate listening to each individual’s unique story and suffering.

Given the established benefits and the balancing effects of being reared by parents of both genders, the core principle here is simple: when we have the choice to form a family and participate in the creation of life, we are to do everything in our power to adhere to God’s design of loving, low-conflict, fully-committed marriage between a man and a woman.

Questions for Reflection

We share this article as part of Public Square Magazine’s ongoing efforts to facilitate a better, more generous conversation about this and other sensitive issues. Much more needs to be said and is being planned in the months ahead. We are also preparing some accompanying video presentations on the YouTube channel Latter-day Presentations. In the meantime, we invite you to consider a few parting questions: 

1. Is it true that the Church’s notions of sexuality, gender, and marriage have somehow been defeated in broader society? If so, what exactly does that mean? If it was defeated, who won, exactly? And what did they win?

2. Do those who assert the foregoing mean to say that secular notions of identity, sexuality, gender, marriage, and family have been shown to be better than the traditional/religious ones when it comes to mental health, human connection, along with an associated sense of personal value and purpose? 

3. Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have spoken in unity for decades, maintaining that our teachings on sexuality, gender, and family are, in fact, unchangeable doctrines. In light of all of these cited resources and the trends we are observing in society, do church leaders and sustaining members have well-considered grounds for maintaining that position?

4. On exactly what grounds do critics of church doctrine make their claims to a superior construct of identity, sexuality, gender, marriage, and family? Beyond special pleading, what empirical, philosophical, or religious basis do we have for considering modifying or undermining church doctrine and traditional norms in these areas? 

5. We would also ask what principle do doctrinal detractors propose that provides a clearly articulable reason to limit romantic and sexual relationships to certain people while denying them to others (such as polyamorous individuals)?

6. Lastly, we note that the burden of proof is often on conservatives to prove that whatever “socially just” change is being pushed should not be accepted. But doesn’t the burden of proof work the other way? Shouldn’t those wanting to change norms that have lasted the test of millennia across the broad majority of human cultures carry a much higher burden of proof?



1. This hardening and coalescing of public opinion is also at least as likely to result from our cultural embrace and saturation of philosophies of sexual liberation, expressive individualism, and sentimentalism as they are “making persuasive arguments for their positions.” Things do not have to be true or thoughtfully reasoned in order to be attractive. For example, the idea of being “born gay” has proven so useful in the advancement of LGBTQ causes, despite the fact that scientific support has always been weak. As stated by John D’Emilio, gay activist and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago: 

“Born gay” is an idea with a large constituency, LGBT and otherwise. It’s an idea designed to allay the ingrained fears of a homophobic society and the internalized fears of gays, lesbians and bisexuals. What’s most amazing to me about the ‘born gay’ phenomenon is that the scientific evidence for it is thin as a reed, yet it doesn’t matter. It’s an idea with such social utility that one doesn’t need much evidence in order to make it attractive and credible.

Reasonable arguments from conservatives being automatically portrayed as unloving—and the social consequence of those arguments—may also partly explain why conservatives are uniquely hesitant to raise their voices today.

John D’Emilio, PhD (professor emeritus of history and of women’s and gender studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago), “LGBT Liberation: Built a Broad Movement,” International Socialist Review, 2009, Issue No. 65; similarly, Jane Ward, a professor of gender studies at the University of California-Riverside, said that “There are a lot of [people] who subscribe to the ‘born this way’ narrative, in part because it’s become almost an obligatory story.

2. On his own podcast, when discussing “LGBT+ Mormon History and Philosophy,” Patrick included only panelists who seem to share a very similar—and progressive—worldview. While this may or may not reflect conscious intent on his part, it’s also fair to point out that when scholars today become aware of any counter-example, they are more likely to not mention them and perhaps even dismiss and marginalize them.

 3  A colleague of ours noted that during graduate school in the social sciences, one of the faculty told him he would likely be deemed non-hirable in academia due to some of his positions on certain social issues. 

 4, Though he is likely no friend of conservative religions, gay legal scholar Edward Stein elaborated on the many difficulties in the construct of sexual orientation in his 1999 book The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory and Ethics of Sexual Orientation. He writes:

In general, I shall attempt to convince you that much of what most people think about sexual orientations is probably wrong, or at least misguided. Many people think that a person’s sexual orientation is inborn in the sense that a person’s eye color is inborn. Most of the popular scientific theories concerning the origins of human sexual orientation—as well as our commonsense theories about them—accept this claim or one similar to it. Further, many people of various political stripes think that this claim and the scientific theories that relate to it are relevant to ethical and legal questions relating to sexual orientations. I am skeptical of each of these commonly held views… I will argue that much of what is widely believed about human sexual orientations is not [likely to be true]… contemporary theories of the nature and origin of sexual orientation, in effect, mismeasure desire. (Page 5, emphasis in original)

In the years since Stein’s book, even LGBTQ advocates have furthered this thesis. 

5. Conservative nonbeliever Douglas Murray, even though he himself is gay, writes in his book The Madness of Crowds that homosexuality “is an unstable component on which to base an individual identity and a hideously unstable way to try and base any form of group identity,” which foreshadows some of the fractures now appearing in LGBT+ activist circles. 

6. We also recommend the provocatively-titled account “The Day I Decided to Stop Being Gay” for the author’s description of a spontaneous shift in his attractions from homosexual to heterosexual (this shift was spontaneous; the “decided” in the clickbait headline refers to a decision to change behaviors and identity in response to the unchosen shift in attractions). 

7. Similar to what has been discovered with the fluidity of sexual orientation, the claimed neuroanatomical basis for gender identity has instead been shown to be an artifact of sexuality, not gender. There has been no “transgender brain” discovery.

8.   “We should allow this because the people asking for it are politically sympathetic and they want it really badly.”

About the authors

Dan Ellsworth

Dan Ellsworth is a consultant in Charlottesville, VA, and host of the YouTube channel Latter-day Presentations.

Jeff Bennion

Jeff Bennion is a marriage and family therapist practicing in Murray, Utah, and a co-founder of the Gender Harmony Institute.
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