PROVO — Latter-day Saints as well as critics of the LDS Church should use more inclusive terms like "same-sex attraction" rather than "gay" to improve their thinking and dialogue about such issues, Ty Mansfield said Thursday.
“ ‘Gay’ is a social construct and also an oversimplification," Mansfield said during a presentation before about 500 people at the 16th annual FairMormon Conference at the Utah Valley Convention Center in downtown Provo.
Mansfield is the president of North Star, an LDS-based gay support group with a message that Mormons who experience same-sex attraction can, and many do, maintain their faith and membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mansfield argued that there is a more nuanced and useful way to refer to and consider the issues around those who experience same-sex attraction.
"This is important because if we, as Latter-day Saints, adopt what amounts to a pop-cultural caricature of sexuality, we become complicit in some measure of the pain and struggle individuals experience as they seek congruence within the context of faith in the gospel because we are inhibiting their ability to live congruently with their faith."
Mansfield, who also teaches family and marriage classes at BYU, said he recently wrote a well-received article for LDS Living magazine titled "What (and what not) to say to someone who experiences same-sex attraction."
The positive reception extended even to critics of the church, Mansfield said, who only had one complaint — his choice of the term "same-sex attraction."
For Mansfield, the term is more correct, and more appropriately nuanced, than gay or lesbian.
"So much of the controversy happens around unexamined premises and conclusions unthinkingly drawn, or simply accepted without any thought at all," he said. "Once we can understand these have harmed our understanding, we can then move to a better place to articulate a reasonable response to those who question or criticize the church's teachings."
For example, Mansfield has experienced same-sex attraction, but now he finds media and others struggling to describe him correctly. One reporter recently labeled him gay, despite the fact he is married to a woman.
"There was a time when my attractions to men were so strong that even though I was committed to living the gospel, I didn't believe I'd ever marry," he said. "With growth, maturity and self-awareness and even addressing therapeutically factors that I believe, for me, influenced my sexuality, the way that I now experience my sexuality is fundamentally, qualitatively different than it was 10 years ago.
"While I still experience some attraction to men, my desires are such that I can't even tell you the last time that I wished or I desired, wistfully so, that I could be in a same-sex relationship or that somehow the church would moderate its stance."
Mansfield referred to research by Lisa Diamond at the University of Utah that found sexual fluidity, what we find attractive, is a general feature of human sexuality. Her research, he said, also reminds us that heterosexuals don't find all people of the opposite sex attractive. Neither do those with same-sex attraction find everyone of their gender to be attractive.
Keeping such nuances in mind helps avoid mental shortcuts that can lead to bias, he said.
Mansfield cheered recent changes in LDS culture that have brought more compassion to same-sex attraction dialogue and "a clarifying and nuancing of church teachings."
But he rejected the cessation of polygamy and the revelation giving the priesthood to men of all races as possible metaphors for "further evolution on homosexuality in the church."
A better metaphor, he said, is the church's position on Darwinian evolution — that the purpose of scripture and revelation is to tell us why man was created, not how.
"My understanding of the church's approach, which I happen to agree with and favor, is that (it's) opted for a vernacular that speaks to the base denominator, the most inclusive term — same-sex sexual/romantic attraction/desires — which may or may not be persistent to the point that it would be termed 'sexual orientation,' and which may or may not ever be acted out on sexually, and which may or may not be incorporated into a gay, lesbian or bisexual identity."
Mansfield said his journey has been about faith, his belief in the LDS concept of a plan of salvation. Within church teachings, there is a law of chastity, and a law of consecration.
Chastity requires purity, Mansfield said, which means moving toward God. The law of consecration requires willingness to give everything to God.
"My desire is to consecrate fully my sexuality to God and the building up of Zion."
"I married my wife," he added, "because I love her, and because I believe fundamentally in the divine design of relationships and that marriage and gender complementarity are important parts of growing into the divine image and likeness of God."