The Fourth Path: Gay, Mormon, Celibate

A fascinating discussion is taking place over at Mormon Mentality with regard to recent changes made to the BYU honor code on the subject of homosexuality. Most interesting to me is the news that a group of gay BYU students took an active part in initiating and approving the changes to the honor code. One of these students, a bright, articulate, self-described 'current, homosexual BYU student, [and] a committed Latter-day Saint,' named Tito took part in some of the meetings between the students and administration where this issue was discussed. He says, 'Since I'm choosing to remain committed to the Church, I obviously don't feel homosexual relationships are morally acceptable,' but goes on to explain that he supports his many gay friends who choose 'homosexual relationships for their path.'

I must admit that when I hear Tito's frank dual admission to be both a homosexual and committed Latter-day Saint, it makes my head spin in all sorts of dizzy, disparate directions, from feelings of admiration and wonder to feelings of sympathy and even pity. The dizziness comes from the difficulty I have in connecting the dots between the equally powerful need to both: 1.) Believe in something that gives one's life meaning; and 2.) Fully love (and be loved by) a partner. In the case of gay-but-committed-Mormons, these two life-infusing needs seem hopelessly incongruous. As such, gay Mormons would seem to have one of four paths to choose from:

1.) Reject the religion, choose/create a new faith/meaning, and enjoy a 'full' relationship with a same-sex partner. The examples of such people are endless.

2.) Enjoy a 'full' relationship with a same-sex partner and maintain belief in (and ties to) Mormonism, albeit on a more restricted/limited basis (i.e. no callings, temple, or priesthood privileges). Past Sunstone contributors Buckley Jeppson and John Gustav-Wrathall have both walked this path.

3.) Maintain belief and full membership in Mormonism and marry an opposite-sex partner. Ben Christensen is a good example.

4.) Maintain belief and full membership in Mormonism and remain single and celibate. Ty Mansfield, co-author of In Quiet Desperation, is a good example. (See also this excellent review of IQD by Robert Rees.)

This 'Fourth Path' is relatively new (or more openly acknowledged and accepted) and is made possible by growing awareness regarding sexual orientation in general, and by the Church's fairly recent position on gays that: 1.) Delineates between same-sex feelings (not a sin) and same-sex behavior (a sin); and 2.) Discourages opposite-sex marriage as a means of dealing with same-sex attraction. This leaves gay Mormons without a viable alternative other than the default option of perpetual singlehood and celibacy. To be sure, both the Church and many gay Mormons hold out hope that therapy and/or faith may lead to heterosexual marriage and family in the future for some, but both camps also seem to be equally pragmatic and stoic in the realization that such an outcome may be unlikely for many, and that the rewards of marriage and family may need to be put off until the next life. Same-sex attraction is likened to a Job-like or Abraham-like test of faith and endurance.

So it is this Fourth Path that fascinates me the most, and not simply for the head-spinning, at-odds competition between the powerful needs of faith/belief and romantic love mentioned above. And not just because of the striking incongruity that the Fourth Path of celibacy and singlehood offers when juxtaposed against the traditional Mormon cultural and theological standard/ideal of partnership and family?¢‚Ǩ‚Äù by far the most recognizable and emphasized aspect of Mormonism. Besides these aspects (and others), what interests me most is the unspoken political ramifications inherent in the success or failure of these gay, single, and committed Mormons. In fact, if the four paths above were represented as a four-man political race, without question all eyes, both gay and straight, both Mormon and ex-Mormon, would be on the man running in lane #4.

Certainly, from the point of view of the Church, until a successful therapy or 'cure' can be found for those who have same-sex attraction, its hopes are pinned on the happiness and successful integration of those who walk the Fourth Path. Otherwise, the gospel must either undergo a radical readjustment that accommodates same-sex marriage, or be content with being a gospel for only 90 to 95 percent of the earth's inhabitants. Those who support the Church (and/or believe same-sex behavior to be immoral) will be rooting heavily for the success of these individuals.

But what about those Mormons and ex-Mormons who do not think that same-sex behavior is immoral? What about Gays who walk the First and Second Paths? Are they as unequivocal and enthusiastic in their support of those on the Fourth Path? I'd imagine that most no doubt desire that all individuals who have same-sex attraction find happiness where they may, be it in Mormonism or out, be it in the arms of a man or woman, or out; in short, they want each individual to fulfill their maximum being or essence. Conversely however, the success of those on the Fourth Path will likely mean the continued opposition and/or disapproval and alienation of those who either walk, or support those who walk, the First and Second Path.

Therefore, given that this path or option is relatively 'new' (in that it bears the fairly recent mark of tacit official sanction), it would seem that the success of this new generation of young, gay Mormons, the Ty Mansfields and the Titos (assuming he chooses the Fourth Path), is possessed with a kind of latent political charge. Their success or failure will almost certainly play a part in the shaping of policy and even doctrine and revelation with regard to sexual orientation, gender, marriage, and family in the future.

(Note: The blog post at Mormon Mentality appears to have prompted a Salt Lake Tribune article.)

135 comments

  1. Eugene Kovalenko says:

    Rick,

    Thanks for taking my comments seriously. I’m pleased to inform you that my “whole supposition” is far more than a “just so story.”

    For openers, I suggest you read my 2006 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium paper Healing and Annealing, which will probably upset you further. (I would be pleased to send a copy via email if you are interested.) Then I suggest a critical examination of Spirit Releasement Therapy, second edition, Headline Books & Co. (2005) by the late William J. Baldwin, D.D.S., Ph.D. I’m confident your understanding of psychological reality will be severely challenged by both documents.

    I met Dr. Baldwin and his wife Judith at the TREAT III Conference in Kansas City to which we’d all been invited in March 1991 by conference founder psychiatrist Rima Laibow, M.D.. The conference was by invitation only, because of the extraordinary and controversial subjects presented and discussed. “TREAT” is an acronym for “Treatment and Research of Experienced Anomalous Trauma.” The seven year conference was designed to address issues arising in Dr. Laibow’s clinical practice and that of others that the psychiatric profession in general had been unable to take seriously up to that time.

    At the time of my 2006 Sunstone presentation, I had not yet realized that the first two tapes in the series of six was not with Dr. Cheek, as indicated in my paper, but actually with Dr. Baldwin! I have carefully transcribed those tapes since presenting the paper and have updated it accordingly.

  2. Richard Jepson says:

    “which will probably upset you further”

    HA! Certainly not upset by ghost stories. Not since I was a child.

    I’d be happy to check out your symposium or anything you’ve written or read. Wondering how any of it could come anywhere close to substantiating the idea that Joseph Smith died, saw a light, chose not to follow it, and became “what psychologists call” and earth-bound spirit.

    Nothing wrong with having or believing in a just-so story. I have my own private collection. But there is a problem with acting like they are more substantial than they are.

  3. Eugene Kovalenko says:

    Rick, you say: “?¢‚Ǩ¬¶but there is a problem with acting like they are more substantial than they are.”

    You are quick to dismiss, but here is what the story has to do with homosexuality:

    If my assertion has substance [that Joseph became an EB], regardless of the problem it causes you, the controversy about homosexuality becomes moot. Contrary to current LDS or Mormon doctrine, I further assert that we all have the freedom to choose our gender for whatever lifetime we are in and for whatever experience we choose to have within it. It’s all a part of the process of eternal progression (development, evolution). You don’t need to defend or deny. I’m simply sharing a compelling experience and asking to know those of others. You are always free to write if off, of course. It doesn’t make it less real to the “just-so story” teller. You say you have some of your own. Please give an example.

  4. Rick Jepson says:

    Thanks for sharing. It doesn’t cause me a problem.

    I have lots of my own, but I choose to keep them to myself.

  5. Eugene Kovalenko says:

    Rick #108,
    A propos of my problem that you see so clearly as well as the tough you seem to want to be on the wrestling mat, I’m confident there’s a nursing story in you that can bless us, your blog friends. Is there not a tender, vulnerable place within that gay-aware, sensitive tendency within you that you seem fearful of revealing? How could you even consider a nursing career otherwise? And, BTW, why be silent about your own “just-so” stories? I once had a gay mentor who complained about my “unfailing exhibitionist” behavior. It’s true that I often play the fool and am seen as crazy by some, such as Clifton Jolley, my brother–and (obviously) you! That’s the risk of living a transparent life. It makes life more interesting and real.

  6. Rick Jepson says:

    1. Not sure why you keep bringing up wrestling. Really bizarre. Sure not on my mind right now. Why is it that this keeps surfacing in your remarks to me?

    2. No idea why you brought up nursing, either. Was it meant to be underhanded? Like a “male nurse” barb or something? Can’t really read you on this.

    3. A sensitive tendency that I’m “fearful of revealing”. Huh? Where do you get this stuff?

    Now that we’re through all that, let’s get back to the original objection. You have every right to believe any quirky thing you want about the details of gender identity or about the details of Joseph Smith’s death. But since those claims are unsubstantiated, why do you expect them to make a difference in this conversation? It’s like me saying, “Hey guys, this whole conversation about homosexuality is moot because I happen to believe that we’re actually in a holographic simulation and the programer that wrote the program is an asexual Martian.” Now, if that’s true, maybe it’s consequential. But since I have no way of proving it, it’s not any more persuasive than any other just-so story (e.g. Joseph Smith chose not to go toward the light, we chose our gender before birth, etc.)

    As I already stated, I have my own set of unsubstantiated beliefs and insights. They are necessary for all of us. All great inquiry starts with them. But–importantly–it doesn’t end there.

    Some of them I’m quite open about. Others I’ve kept entirely personal and not even shared with my wife. But, most importantly, I scrutinize all of them instead of offering them as unquestionable truths that somehow solve a very thorny argument.

  7. Rick Jepson says:

    Also, I would certainly be interested in reading your transcript, which is a lot easier for me than listening to the session. Still have my e-mail address?

  8. Eugene Kovalenko says:

    1. Not sure why you keep bringing up wrestling. Really bizarre. Sure not on my mind right now. Why is it that this keeps surfacing in your remarks to me?

    Since I am at times a confessed “crazy” you should not be surprised by “bizarre” stuff on occasion. This reminds me of Fawn Brodie’s famous quote of Joseph Smith’s: “No man knows my history…If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself.” I wonder how many others in our Mormon culture feel that way? I know I do.

    As for the wrestling thing, I first became aware of you because of your “Godwrestling” paper in the November 2005 Sunstone Magazine. You identified with the Biblical Jacob’s experience which gained him his famous new name: Israel. Since I have my own identification with this “Penuel” event, I believed this told me something important about you, which interested me greatly. It meant you had tenacity and determination and I wanted to test that perception. I’ve not been disappointed in your subsequent responses. Then, before writing #109, I looked up your posted bio and learned you have a long term ambition to wrestle in many (10?) different styles. I assumed that ambition was still alive.

    2. No idea why you brought up nursing, either. Was it meant to be underhanded? Like a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmale nurse?¢‚Ǩ¬ù barb or something? Can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t really read you on this.

    By no means was this meant to be an underhanded “barb”. On the contrary it was meant to show an appreciation for what seemed to me a remarkable span of capability and sensitivity. My wife expresses her gratitude for the strength, tenderness and extraordinary sensitivity of a male nurse during a recent emergency hospitalization. Would that there were more such men is this profession!

    3. A sensitive tendency that I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfearful of revealing?¢‚Ǩ¬ù. Huh? Where do you get this stuff?

    Thank you for dispelling my wonder about your being fearful of revealing your sensitive side. Many in our Mormon culture are certainly fearful in this regard. Was this not one of original concerns for this blog thread?

    Regarding your apparent objection to my “quirky” assertions, you say: But since those claims are unsubstantiated, why do you expect them to make a difference in this conversation?

    You might make the same objection to young Joseph’s account of his first vision. It is unsubstantiated, since there were no witnesses. The LDS Church has made his verious unsubstantiated accounts its central claim to being the “only true church” these days, is this not so?

    But this begs my point. I don’t know what you would accept as a “substantiated” claim, but I have offered a couple of things for your consideration. (I’ll send them to the email address on the website.) I’m just now reminded of a poem I wrote years ago when I lived in Ventura, CA and began wondering about the official Church policy of increasing intimidation of the Mormon intellectual community. A year later I was excommunicated. I called it:

    Nineveh Revisited

    When pressed for proof in Galilee,
    He spoke of Jonah’s journey;
    Amid the ruins of Zarahemla
    He cited a Lamanite’s cry.
    What will he say of Ventura?

    That is, when and what does anyone accept as proof of anything?

    I’m glad you are willing to read my transcript. You’ve motivated me to update it just now. To give you the bottom line to my original assertion of Joseph as an “EB”, for me that assertion has been resolved as of November last year, when I watched Joseph being escorted into the Light (note capital letter) by the spirit of my late father. Yes, it is a private experience, but I’ve not been bothered by that attachment since.

    It was the purpose of my paper to invite others to share any similar or related experiences. That’s why I went out on a limb. No one, except the assigned respondent to the paper, has come forward. Is that because of fear or because my experience is unique? Michael Quinn has assured me that I am NOT unique, which has been comforting. I still wonder how many others of our people are plauged by such attachments.

  9. Kevin says:

    A reply about Nick Literskis’ column: A married (to the opposite sex) Mormon man who claims to be Gay isn’t really Gay at all, more than likely, these men are Bisexual. Homosexuality and Bisexuality are two different things.A true homosexual man could not possibly ever marry a woman, even out of ardent religious belief and stick with it, let alone for eternity. Not only that, but I don’t think there are a whole lot of women out there who would be willing to tolerate the sexual exploits of a Bisexual husband, with her full knowledge. Something (in the relationship)would have to give sooner or later. Also, the Church would consider marriages such as these to contain an element of well, adultery.

  10. Ben Newby says:

    Thank you for sharing. I have chosen the fourth path after trying the other paths and being a member of the church since 1970 when I was 18. I love the church and have had some personal spiritual experiences in the temple and want to be sealed to my parents and family for eternity since it looks like I will not have the opportunity to have a spouse or partner until the next life. I have tried therapy, counsel, prayer, sacrifice, gay dating, gay relationships, gay bars, etc., and none of them seem to fit me. I have tried dating women all my life but nothing ever ‘clicked’ for me with feelings or attractions. I DO believe I’m gay, not bisexual. I wish I wasn’t but have come to know that that is my sexual identity. It is a very difficult daily wrestle to not be able to experience the human desire of intimacy. So when someone gives me a hug or pat on the back that’s about all I get in this life physical intimate-wise except for a kiss from my family members. At times I am very torn apart, but I love the temple and honor my priesthood. Most of my best friends are Mormons are good Christian females…all straight. I have no gay friends. This is the choice I have made. In the past, when I’ve had some close male friends, like working as a stake missionary with other missionaries, I have felt fulfilled. But living in a very rural area in Kansas I have none of that. But I keep going, taking it at a day at a time. If I meet another gay man who is loving and caring it will be a miracle, and I don’t know that I would ever be willing to give up all that I have been taught in the church and its doctrine…I just couldn’t do that…and inactivity isn’t for me because my spiritual life is too important to me. I guess some people think I’m stupid, but my bishop and some Christian friends at work respect me and honor me for my decision. My decision is not for every gay Mormon…everyone must find their own way to happiness because did not make us exactly the same. I believe and know that not all people were meant to be Mormons in this life. God places people and puts them in different places in this world where they can be of the best service to others and can be in the best environment where they can use their God-given talents. My grandmother to me what a saintly Christian woman who lived a wonderful life as a Presbyterian. I have seen gay Mormons who have become inactive and they are not happy but I respect them for their decision. I know many gay Mormons who are active in church and are sexually active and find nothing wrong with it. I don’t understand that but respect it. I guess I’ve said enough.

  11. Erin says:

    “the Church would consider marriages such as these to contain an element of well, adultery”

    Please provide proof.

    “A true homosexual man could not possibly ever marry a woman, even out of ardent religious belief and stick with it, let alone for eternity. Not only that, but I don’t think there are a whole lot of women out there who would be willing to tolerate the sexual exploits of a Bisexual husband, with her full knowledge.”

    A lightbulb is turning on, and I am realizing you must be a troll. Never mind.

  12. DORAN DAN says:

    HELLO!!! MY NAME IS DORAN DAN,I’M 41/1,72/72KG,SINGLE,GAY,I WISH SO MUCH SO FIND GAY MORMON,FRIENDSHIP WITH GAY MORMON,VISITS SUPPORT,PLEASE HELP ME SO FIND FRIENDS,I’M VERY SAD BECAUSE I NOT HAVE FRIENDS,IF YOU DESIRE SEND FOR ME CLOTHES AND SHOES SECOND HAND OF COURSE,PLEASE WRITE ME MESSAGE,PLEASE HELP ME SO FIND FRIENDS,THANKS.

  13. Trenton Gregory says:

    I very much liked the first review of how the race …can be ran . The overview was fair as I might think a young man’s sexual drive,or in my case emotional needs are tied into my well being. A lot of people seem to think a man’s needs are different than a women’s in a relationship and think a straight man’s needs are well rounded and project the idea that a gay man’s is lust driven and only primal. My relationship needs are as love based and well rounded as many of the guys I know. I know I am more emotionally intouch and caring as I have the time to decide if I should risk praise and go for a full loving -intimately healthy relationship. I’m deeply concerned about the choice to not be a fully responsive man. I can say its easy to give up and blame my same sex attraction – and not fall in love and draw from all I am.I realised today “if” one day a fifth lane came into view and I would be asked to uphold the same standards regardless of who I marry? Than I will fully be asked to just be the best commited , great guy as joe Straight . I don’t think the choice is nothing or something shallow??I like to think I’m not flawed as even all mental health professionals agree and I can pick my way to be the best man I can be ! Just blaming anyone or not having faith to trust your own heart and mind . I’ll pick the lane #5 the hope I will have a love that’s true to who I am…and one day be respected. It starts with me* Trenton

  14. DORAN DAN says:

    HELLO!!! MY NAME IS DORAN DAN,I’M 42/1,72/72KG,SINGLE,GAY,I NOT HAVE FRIENDS,PLEASE HELP ME SO FIND FRIENDS FOR FRIENDSHIP,VISITS SUPPORT,IF YOU VISITS ROMANIA PLEASE VISITS ME,THANKS.

  15. Bob Wilkinson says:

    I have always had the opinion that to follow reason rather than instinct, physical urges, or emotion was what made mankind different from the animal kingdom– if God really breathed life into us and man became a “living soul”. Culture puts so much emphasis on decisions made from feelings or emotions. There is something to be said for arranged marriages if our goal is to follow a divine plan. Not that I am perfect (far from it) but I realized early that restraint was an attribute I needed in order to follow a straight path (notice I didn’t say walk) to God. We often stumble into the brush, rocks and other obstacles beside the path. Many stay celibate until life’s end or until marriage– early or late. So I see life as a challenge, with, meditating, fasting and other self control practices as the best modus operandi. I ask no more of anyone else than I ask of myself and I judge nobody for how they feel.

  16. Brett says:

    Ben Newbry, I applaud you. Your bravery, and your endurance, to paraphrase The Lord speaking to Joseph smith “will be for but a moment”, as the glorious reward awaiting you for such righteousness will be unfathomable. Where I find your story saddest though is in the assumption that you probably cannot be open about your feelings at church. I find that there is a terrible fear of gay and lesbian folk by members, almost of medieval-esque proportions. It would be great if the church did more to encourage less fear, more understanding, and compassion. I am not gay myself, but through work associations have come to know many gay and lesbian folks who I have found to be so delightful, talented, and inspiring. Good luck, brother, with the path you have chosen.

  17. Jacob says:

    I will be somewhat frank. I am married, nearly twenty years, and I hid my sexuality from my wife when I married, mainly because I hid it from myself. That was my mistake, my error, though the LDS Church, which I love and am faithful to (only wish it loved me back), taught that I had chosen my orientation and that marriage would fix it. It didn’t. We are sexless now, often at odds, and we remain married because (a) I want my baby girl to grow up with both parents, (b) I believe we can make this marriage work, if not as a real marriage, at least as a home environment for the little one, and (c) I hope some good will come of the relationship apart from my baby girl, for whom it WAS worth it! 🙂 I will never and can never say otherwise.

    That having been said, my Church, from my stake presidency, bishopric on down see me as weird, creepy, sickening, simply for being gay. They know of my challenges and struggles to remain celibate though married, but there is no winning their approval, only their disapproval. I am marginalized, held in the background, passed over. Sometimes I want to run out and run, run and run, and end up somewhere where I have the true Gospel, the true Church, but am at long last accepted and esteemed as normal, as good, as faithful, as worthy.

    Perhaps the single biggest plague to being Gay and Mormon (the homosexuality is not the plague, coupling it with the Mormon attitude to pretend Gay Mormons do not exist (except on special websites that, all appearance to the contrary, do not grow, they are flat, with no depth), that oblivion and invisibility is the hardest thing to deal with, mainly because I DO love this Church, I DO know it’s true, I DO want to build it up, but I’m the wrong color, the wrong size, the wrong orientation. I can serve on my own, always in an independent and unacknowledged capacity, always dependent on the willingness of a straight person to team up with me, then take credit (not that I seek credit, but when credit is showered on the straights sans the gay, I feel used), and I am alone. Alone, save that I love my baby girl, and I love my wife, all oddities in our relationship notwithstanding. I have family, I have acquaintances, but I am often lonely. This is the life of a faithful gay Mormon.

  18. Ron says:

    It seems that most of you gay mormons are trapped by your own acceptance of other peoples opinions. Expand your view and realize that the church has to promote a certain ideal. Accept that for what it is and move forward by thinking for yourselves. Play the game (being active) if that is what you want, enjoy their company, interaction, etc., but don’t base your happiness on their approval. Your opinion is the most important. You are a sovereign individual, take responsibility.

  19. Guy says:

    Hello everyone,
    1st. Doran Dan, happy late birthday. I guess it was in June.
    I wishe there was a way to get to communicate privately from here.

    2nd, So many people talk about acceptance, yet persecute/insult/avoid those who are gay at heart and have chosen to be a faithful mormon. Isthat the definition of hypocritical?

    3nd, For those who are married and remain so for the children, I did, and after they were grown they then rejected me. I wish better for you.

    Alan

  20. I’m trying to use software to erase the information on my old computer before donating it. The mouse is not working on the computer. I’ve tried another mouse on the computer and it still will not work. I need to reboot my computer in order to start the disc wiper. Is there a way of rebooting my computer without a mouse? Thanks so much!.

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