From Error to Apology, or The Path to Grace in a Homophobic Faith

IN 1980, I BECAME A STUDENT at Brigham Young University, not long after the American Psychiatric Association reportedly removed “homosexuality” from its list of mental and behavioral disorders. To say the declassification had caused a stir on campus would be an understatement. Religious ire was up, and, throughout my years at BYU, both student and professor alike interpreted the change as “the world” normalizing sin and as Satan “winning over the hearts of men” in the last days. In my campus congregation, I was often reminded I’d been reserved for the spiritual battles to precede the second coming and to figuratively suit up.

So I girded up my loins just like my peers, full of devotion to God, even though I’d given the topic of homosexuality exactly as much thought as was held within the pages of Spencer W. Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness.

A year or so later, I remember standing at the window of my Riviera Apartment and watching a guy in my ward—Maurice Something—emerge from the shadow of an exterior hallway and move into the parking lot. Maurice was the best kind of person, kind, funny, smart…but never with a girl. In my apartment of six co-eds, we’d wondered aloud why he hadn’t been snatched up. But that day, as I watched him walking, I knew why, though only through the rumor mill.

The word was, Maurice had confided in someone that he’d told our bishop he is homosexual and experiences no attraction for women. He’d hoped for guidance from our religious leader that could solve what seemed an impossible gospel dilemma, but the advice he received was to date the girls in our congregation, select a nice one, and marry her. What reached my ears came with the assurance Maurice had said he never would—never could—do this to any woman, much less someone he cared about.

As I watched him from my window, I knew he’d never be the perfect husband for some lucky girl. I knew he wasn’t a crime against nature, nor was he base or dirty. He was a young man of honor facing a very difficult predicament. To this day, I suspect Maurice allowed the gossip about his sexual orientation to float throughout our ward. What a relief he must’ve experienced once the dating pressure from his peers eased.

During that moment at my window, I felt the first inkling that maybe Spencer W. Kimball and the collection of voices I’d been listening to at BYU were wrong. Wrong about the declassification, wrong about Maurice, and surely wrong in their advice to him.

Someday an apostle will say the church was “spectacularly wrong” about its homophobic approach to and condemnation of homosexuality just as Dallin H. Oaks has said the church was wrong about the racist ideas that resulted in the priesthood ban. Thank goodness Dr. Allen E. Bergin, a BYU psychology professor who had contributed to anti-gay sentiments at my alma mater, did not wait until that day to issue his own apology for promoting ideas that led followers of Christ astray.

Dr. Bergin’s apology, which, according to his daughter, he provided historians approximately three years ago, was put on public display by Latter Gay Stories. It reads:

“As a mental health professional and psychology professor from 1961 until my retirement in 1999, I was among the traditionalists who believed that homosexuality was a disorder and that it could be treated and changed to some degree…

“I regret being part of a professional, religious, and public culture that marginalized, pathologized, and excluded LGBT persons. As a father of two gay sons and grandfather of a gay grandson, I’ve been given a personal education that has been painful and enlightening.

“To the general public, I say — Stop. Listen. Learn. Love. To myself, my posterity, my colleagues, my fellow church members, and my political leaders, I say—apologize and compensate those of God’s children who have been afflicted by our treatment of them when they should have been embraced and loved. Give them their rightful place in society and in church so they may be nurtured and progress in their spiritual, social, and professional lives.

“We are all children of the same Heavenly Parents, who I believe love and value all their children, regardless of sexual orientation, and who grant each of us the same opportunity to receive Jesus Christ’s Grace. I will continue my efforts for the rest of my days to receive that Grace for myself and to point others toward His healing and redeeming power.”

Allen E. Bergin, Clinical Psychologist, former BYU professor, and former Stake President

The most difficult thing about apologies is that none of them are perfect, none of them can erase the harm perpetrated by the offense or gather up the far-reaching consequences and contain them. But a sincere apology gives us a glimpse into the restoration of a soul. There is joy in that.    

And in that joy is a call to work. So please, my straight friends, do as they teach and pray about this controversy. Pray that darkness falls from the glass in front of us and that we become better at distinguishing zealous, human error from God’s design.

And then be ready. Because change will come. It has to come—this destined, church-wide retraction—and when it does, so comes the restoration of grace in its fullness. Never forget that love is forever expanding and that that expansion has always been the Savior’s aspiration for us.

In the meantime, use your privilege in the Church to protect those most vulnerable. Speak up. Speak up. And then speak up again. You’ll find your people, and they’ll find you.

I promise, when you look out your own, private window to the world, you will soon see a Maurice emerging from the shadow. Maybe he’s already there. You’ll see his goodness, his infinite worth—and you’ll see grace, both his and God’s. When you do discover your Maurice, be still, watch. Don’t fear the hope for him that will grow inside you, that longing, that wish, that he finds the same kind of enduring love you hope to experience. In that hope rests the expansive love of God.

Wherever my Maurice is, here’s hoping he found that love.

~ ~ ~

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God … (1 Cor. 10:15)  

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2 thoughts on “From Error to Apology, or The Path to Grace in a Homophobic Faith

  1. Nathan Whilk

    In your link, does Dallin H. Oaks really say that “the church was wrong about the racist ideas that resulted in the priesthood ban”? The last long answer by Oaks (columns 3 and 4) sure seems like he’s treating the priesthood ban as if it were a command of the Lord.


    1. Yes, he is saying that the priesthood restriction was of God but the made-up reasons were spectacularly wrong. It’s classic DHO protectionism, and, to my mind, arrogant. It’s ridiculous to claim that the ban was of God but that the reasons the LDS taught was spectacularly wrong. I’m glad you brought this up because its an important point to discuss (and one I may address it in the future). If you read carefully, you’ll see I mirrored what he said in my claim: “Someday an apostle will say the church was “spectacularly wrong” about its homophobic approach to and condemnation of homosexuality just as Dallin H. Oaks has said the church was wrong about the racist ideas that resulted in the priesthood ban.” I’m actually saying that the Church will forsake it’s reasons for its homophobic policy (it’s “approach”). Hopefully, we’ll someday have leadership with the humility to recognize repentance isn’t simply for the common Mormon and fully repent of both the racist priesthood ban and the homophobic “doctrine” they endorse, but we don’t right now. And may not for a very long time. The good news is that members are finding their Maurice and recognizing that all the values and virtue they aspire to is also in their Maurice. Not all, but the wave is climbing.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Great point.


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