…the parched land shall become a pool, and the thirsty lands springs of water…(Isaiah 35:7)


Identity versus Behavior

By Rex Goode


If you have been following what I have been writing about the possibility of the Boy Scouts of America changing their policies regarding registration of gay members, you know that I had my own run-in with the policy. You also know that I hope they will change their policy. I don’t really have any way of knowing where I stand with other Latter-day Saints, but a clue to how the Church feels might be found in the Great Salt Lake Council’s announcement that they are asking the National organization to postpone the vote.

While the council is not under the supervision of the Church, a large percentage (99%) of troops in the council are sponsored by units of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints. It would seem that much of the influence to ask National to reconsider could be based on these facts. I really don’t know and it is probably not useful to speculate.

The official, current policy of the Boy Scouts of America is:

While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA. Scouting believes same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its program with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting. The vast majority of parents we serve value this right and do not sign their children up for Scouting for it to introduce or discuss, in any way, these topics. The BSA is a voluntary, private organization that sets policies that are best for the organization. The BSA welcomes all who share its beliefs but does not criticize or condemn those who wish to follow a different path (emphasis added).

Two adjectives were the “gotcha” for me, the reason I was denied membership. I was both “open”, meaning that I was willing to talk public about it, and “avowed”, in their interpretation meaning that I declared it to be true of me. This was a very confusing thing for me at the time. Notice that the word “practicing” never entered the policy.

What was confusing was that I wasn’t a practicing homosexual, whatever that is. I haven’t had sex with a male since before I turned 16 years old. That was over 40 years ago. By some definitions, that doesn’t even qualify me as a homosexual anymore.

What I was accustomed to was the assurance I had from priesthood leaders that someone like me, despite admitting to still having homosexual feelings, but was not acting on those feelings, was as worthy to serve in any calling as anyone else. The Church, rightly I believe, defined my suitability by the choice I made to remain abstinent from sex with males and be faithful to my wife and my covenants.

My local bishop felt that this was how he should judge my eligibility and I was comfortable with that at first. Later, it became apparent to me that the BSA definitions would win out and that was when I asked my bishop to release me. I felt I had done the right thing. I was believed that bowing out would be less painful to my family than getting tossed out.

A few months later, in another state, stake, and ward, I allowed a bishop to talk me into accepting a calling. He, as did my former local leaders, believed that the BSA policy was talking about “practicing” homosexuals and that it had nothing to do with me.  He said he felt inspired to call me to that position and I didn’t argue with that.

I probably should have. I hadn’t been in that ward a month when I got a call from a member of the stake presidency asking me to meet him at the chapel. I was grilled on two questions:

  • When was the last time you had sex with a man?
  • Are you a predator?

My answers were:

  • Over 25 years (at the time).
  • No

Though this seemed to satisfy him, I was left with the impression that they were going to keep an eye on me. When I told my wife about it, she made a very angry phone call to the stake president. It’s a hard way to be greeted by the local church leadership. The only way they even knew about me was that someone had mailed them something I wrote on the internet, completely out of context, and seeming to be damning evidence of a man that was there to seduce all of the men in the stake.

It was that letter and my wife’s phone call that prompted a personal meeting with the stake president. In the course of that meeting, he got to know the real me, my point of view, my faithfulness to both my wife and the Church, and my desire to be of service to others who might be experiencing same-sex attraction and questioning their testimonies. It was also in that meeting that I was shown the snippet from the internet and the scrawled note by a general authority that said, “Why is this person in Scouting?”

Despite everything that happened in my early days in that stake, I earned their respect. It wasn’t long before I was part of an effort to talk to leaders around the state about same-sex attraction. I accompanied a couple in my ward who were called as Church Service Missionaries to be of assistance to those of us who dealt with same-sex attraction. I participated in two firesides in the stake where I told my story, one of them in the very ward where I was a member.

In short, I was no longer feared by my priesthood leaders. It has always been true that I scare some people. A friend of mine told me that I was an intimidating person and that it has nothing to do with same-sex attraction. I really am nicer than I seem.

When it comes to homosexuality, one man in that ward told a convert family to watch out for me. For the most part, I enjoyed an atmosphere of respect where just about anyone that was paying attention would know about me. Even the member of the stake presidency that asked me those two awful questions pulled me aside after he had moved away and became a president of another stake. He told me he was grateful for everything he had learned from me.

I reluctantly focus on the negative responses I have received from members of the Church, but only because it illustrates the discrepancies in the attitudes of church members to homosexuality. Though I was told and still believe that my worthiness is a matter of my behavior, not my automatic feelings, those who have dealt unkindly with me have been more worried about my identity than my behavior.

Though I never had a conversation with the general authority who wrote that note, his use of the term “this person” felt like a direct slap at my identity, as if it isn’t enough to obey the commandments. The man who warned converts to avoid me wasn’t impressed by my determination to keep my covenants.  The woman who made sure her children were on the other side of the hall when I walked by only saw someone she feared.

Fortunately, the good entirely overwhelmed the bad, and people treated me very well. I think they treated me well because they saw everything else I was and that mattered more to them than my admission to being attracted to men. You see, despite spending a lot of time writing about homosexuality, it is hardly the definition of my life (see All That I Am).

So, let me say something about identity and homosexuality. It is fairly standard now for people to self-identify as “gay” and for “straight” people to use the term. I have always preferred to think of myself as more holistic than that, and definitely more complex than any label could ever hope to describe. That’s because if you think of me as gay, you probably won’t get a very accurate picture of my life and choices.

On the other hand, if you call me “gay” or I call myself “gay,” it doesn’t bother me. It would bother me if you weren’t willing to sit down and talk with me about it. If you thought that the word told you everything you wanted to know about me, you would be wrong.

I think that before the issue with the Boy Scouts of America and the Church is ever fully settled, they will need to come to an agreement about what it means to be an “avowed homosexual”. Both will have to decide whether a man like me fits the term. Right now, I think that the policy of the BSA is all about identity where the doctrine of the Church is all about behavior, but that the culture of the Church sides with the BSA. With such a fundamental difference, I don’t see how they can every iron it out. My hope is that they will and that the result will be that a man will be judged by the content of his character.

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