A Review of No Going Back by Jonathan Langford
On the back cover of Jonathan Langford’s novel, No Going Back, there is my name as an endorser. Despite the embarassing mixed metaphor I used, I have no regrets endorsing this book. I have read in places about fears that this book will damage the youth of the Church. If tha were true, I would be complicit. Thankfully, it is not true.
Decades ago, like Paul in the story, I sat in my Aaronic Priesthood quorum and listened to the jokes. Back then, where we lived, we called them “homos”. I say “we” because I was involved in the name-calling. I felt l like I had no choice lest I fall under suspicion myself.
If I had been suspected, they would have been right. By that time, I had not only experienced attraction to the same sex, I had acted on those attractions. I had been molested as a young boy and had been involved with classmates doing the same things I had been taught by my abuser.
I first heard the term “gay” from, of all places, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In during their “Laugh-In Looks at the News” segment. From then on, church attendance became unbearable. Gay jokes among my Latter-day Saint peers became more and more commonplace. I stopped attending, for multiple reasons, shortly after my ordination to the Aaronic Priesthood.
After a foray into the world of teenage homosexual underground activities, I had a powerful prayer experience that brought me back to the Church. Working with a wonderful bishop, I got myself ready to be advanced to the office of a priest. In that prayer experience, I promised the Lord that not only would I cease my sexual activities, but that I would go to church no matter how uncomfortable I might be.
The unkind and demeaning comments were still frequent. The only difference was that the older I got, the more the comments moved from being jokes to being social commentary. I might not have minded so much, since I have always believed in people’s rights to their opinions, if it wasn’t so hard to find any compassion in what was said.
Even though I was being faithful to the teachings of the Church, I felt the sting of crass remarks as keenly as ever. I don’t think I ever adopted the term “gay” as a description of myself, but I knew that when people said vulgar things about gay people, they were talking about people who felt the way I did.
Inevitably, times change. I think that local church leaders rightly saw the tendency to say unkind things about homosesexual people as an excuse to be vulgar. If not for the sake of teaching tolerance, they urged youth to not talk about homosexuality to keep their minds and thoughts from tending towards coarseness.
I solved the problem of my peers being vulgar about homosexuality by making it known that they were talking about something that deeply affected me and that their comments are hurtful. I don’t know anymore what people say when I’m not around, but my friends, at least, know better when I am present.
For many years, I operated a support group that helped Latter-day Saint men who struggled with same-sex attraction. Occasionally, a member of the group would invite his bishop or stake president to see what we did there. I made myself available to answer questions. One of the more common themes those questions centered around was fear that if we talk to youth about homosexuality, we might give them ideas they never had before.
I think I can guarantee that I didn’t struggle with same-sex attraction because Big Al, played on Laugh-In by Alan Sues, made fun of the Gay Liberation Front. I can definitely guarantee that young people in our day are hearing about homosexuality in all sorts of places: the classroom, the streets, at friends’ houses, and the media. What seems most sad is that they don’t hear it from their parents and priesthood leaders.
I’m sure there are parents and priesthood leaders who know to share the standards of the Church with our youth and do so acknowledging that same-sex attraction is a topic that must be addressed. I think those parents and priesthood leaders are rare. There is an attitude I have heard expressed many times that the best way to keep our children safe from getting ideas about themselves possibly being gay is to keep entirely quiet about it.
That is why I was so anxious to endorse No Going Back and to encourage Jonathan Langford in writing it. Contrary to what some have said, I don’t see the novel or its author as having some social agenda or pushing a point of view. It tells a good story. It is well-researched and realistic. It is timely.
It no doubt opens up opportunities for discussion. It seems to me that this is what good art is all about. If it creates a environment among the youth of the Church where their parents and leaders will need to teach the gospel more clearly, that can’t be anything but good.
As a father and grandfather, if I find myself concerned that my children are developing information and attitudes that I see as contrary to the gospel, I am grateful that I have a new opportunity to teach correct principles, encourage tolerance, and bear my testimony. No Going Back tells the story of a young man who is faced with a challenge that can shape the rest of his life and eternity. The adults in his life can no longer remain silent. In an era where parents are struggling to be the main voice their children heed in matters of morality, we can’t afford to think that silence is the best way to teach them.