A couple years ago my husband and I invited a friend of mine from Montreal over for dinner. She had come to BYU for the summer with a ward friend, John, who was also doing an internship at BYU. I asked my friend if John wanted to come to dinner as well.
“No, he doesn’t want to meet anyone here.” She told me over the phone.
I thought that statement was odd, so I pressed her when she came for dinner.
“The people here just see him as a thirty-something single guy and they try to set him up. He absolutely doesn’t want to be set up on any date.” She went on to explain that he had lived in Provo a previous summer and spent the better part of his free time turning down dates.
It was strange to me that an unmarried man would feel so uncomfortable in such circumstances. All the single men I knew would’ve loved to be in his position. Later it occured to me that John could perhaps be a homosexual Mormon, and coming to a marriage-happy culture might be overwhelming. I wondered what it would be like if John could just tell these well-intentioned people that he was gay. A gay, celibate, faithful Mormon who wasn’t interested in dating.
In the PBS documentary “The Mormons” Marlin K. Jensen is asked about homosexuality in the framework of our church:
“The thing that we have to ultimately say … is, yes, there’s nature; yes, there’s nurture; but there’s also agency. We all have the capacity and power to choose. If you’re going to live your life within the framework of the Gospel, within the framework of our doctrine, then you’ve got to choose to marry someone of the opposite sex, and if you can’t do that honestly, then your choice has to be to live a celibate life. That is a very difficult choice for the parents, for the young man, the young woman, for whoever’s making that choice, and my heart goes out to them. I think we’re asking a tremendous amount of them.”
Recently Provo’s Daily Herald featured an interview with a man who has chosen to live a celibate life. Christian also happens to be a family friend, and the first celibate, faithful, homosexual man that I’ve known personally. This is is his interview:
A Celibate Christian
When Christian Harrison came to Provo in 1993, his head was packed with stereotypical images about homosexuals — outlandish clothing, pedophilia — which is why he resisted acknowledging his own sexual orientation.
“I knew I liked guys at BYU but I said to myself, ‘I can’t be gay,’ ” he said.
Before his freshman year was over, however, Harrison said he had made the leap.
But he didn’t leap away from his faith. Even though his church and school condemned what he knew to be his intrinsic nature, Harrison said, he made “no conscientious decision” to abandon his Mormonism. He stuck with it.
“There are gay students at BYU going out clubbing and having sex,” Harrison said. “Outside of Provo, they are as gay as Liberace. Others are so deep in the closet that the only person who knows is Heavenly Father.”
In college he had been among the latter group, he said.
“I had a positive experience at BYU, but I didn’t exactly let people know I was gay,” he said. “I minded my p’s and q’s and didn’t get into trouble.” In fact, his only run-in was having a crush on his roommate and having to change apartments.
He dated lots of women, but mostly to disguise the truth. “Going out with girls was fun, but fun like going out with my sister,” he said. “The daughters of Zion deserve to be loved fully.”
Today, Harrison is a proud BYU alumnus and the clerk of his LDS ward in Salt Lake City. His homosexual orientation is on the table.
“I am an out gay man who’s an active Latter-day Saint. In my Salt Lake ward, my bishopric knows, my stake presidency knows, the Relief Society president knows. It’s not a secret,” Harrison said.
A returned missionary, Harrison says he accepts being subject to the same commandments as any other church member, namely the law of chastity — no sexual relations outside of marriage. Because the LDS Church recognizes marriage only between a man and a woman, he said, celibacy keeps his membership intact.
Harrison frequently dates other men, but “pre-mission” style, with strict obedience to the law of chastity. He declined to give more detail.
He also knows that he will never be called to serve with the young men of the church or Primary children. But he still isn’t leaving Mormonism.
“I’ve never considered leaving the church, ever,” he said. “The church is true. It’s inconvenient, but it’s true.”
Harrison knows that he is in the minority: “By and large, the majority of gay men in the church leave the church, and in no small way. They leave the church and everything else behind, which is a shame. It’s a terrible loss to the church and the kingdom of God.”
I love that Christian has been able to be honest with people in his ward. I love that he has a calling. Not long ago, we ran into him at downtown deli in Salt Lake. He filled us in on his life. He seemed so happy . . . I hoped he was.
Speaking on hope, in the PBS interview Elder Jensen also says:
“. . . some people argue sometimes, well, for the gay person or the lesbian person, we’re not asking more of them than we’re asking of the single woman who never marries. But I long ago found in talking to them that we do ask for something different: In the case of the gay person, they really have no hope. A single woman, a single man who is heterosexual in their thinking always has the hope, always has the expectation that tomorrow they’re going to meet someone and fall in love and that it can be sanctioned by the church. But a gay person who truly is committed to that way of life in his heart and mind doesn’t have that hope. And to live life without hope on such a core issue, I think, is a very difficult thing.”
Are we ready as a culture to accept those who choose to live the openly gay celibate life? Our ability to accept and love (and perhaps resist temptation to set them up on dates) maybe their only hope for happiness in this world. Though I am quite certain that their diligence will prove glorious in the next.