I have spent the week studying and preparing for my weekly, Sunday school lesson. The month of August focuses on the topic of “Marriage and Family.” There are various subtopics of discussion, one of which is the topic of chastity. In years past I have quietly overlooked the chastity lesson and elected to teach something that was less hard, less intrusive and probably less effective. I remember as a youth growing up in the church how painfully awkward it was to see our Sunday school teacher stumble through a lesson on the law of chastity. The words: masturbation, sex and pleasure replaced with phrases like “you know what I am talking about”, “that one thing” and “I’ll leave that topic up to your parents.”
At what point did addressing the law of chastity become so brutal?
When I was in elementary school I attended the male maturation class. It was taught by the town’s only physician. He brought with him a 9mm pistol. He slammed the clip into the handle of the gun, pretended to load a bullet and said, “can any of you guess what’s more powerful that this gun?” Given that we were in a sex education class, I was interested in whatever he had to say. With not even a grin he said, “boys, your body is more powerful than this weapon.” Now he had my attention…my body was more powerful than that gun? Sign me up.
I was twelve years old at the time. I had been experiencing new feelings, emotions and new activities in my life. I had hit puberty. I wished I had dared to ask more questions about what was happening inside of me. Here I was, a brand new teenager, not sure if he was gay or straight or something in between and I felt hopeless. Where does a twelve year old boy turn for answers to these questions? Surely the home should be the first place to have the discussion, but because of embarrassment and pride it seems as though society is comfortable with shifting the role of the parents to church leaders, elementary educators or even the gun toting doctor.
I had so many questions resulting from my sex education class. Why was I feeling attracted to boys? Why couldn’t I stop thinking of masturbating? Would the urges ever slow down? Is this what it was like to be a man? When I walked through the front door of my home after the maturation course I put all my literature on the kitchen table. Laying it out on the table, in the open was the only way I knew how to begin an embarrassing conversation. I waited for one of my parents to begin the conversation. Both my parents noticed the books and pamphlets (my Dad quickly fanning through the pages of one of the pamphlets) and then quickly invited me to take my stuff to my room so my little sister wouldn’t see it. That was the extent of my in-home-sex-education course. I needed so much more.
I was left on my own.
Looking back it was no wonder why pornography, self gratification, experimentation, lust and a host of other activities took center stage in my formidable years. I, like too many other young men my age was left to figure this stuff out on my own. It was painful. When an angel asked Nephi a question about God, Nephi answered, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17). I too affirm that God loves all His children and acknowledge that many questions, including some related to same-gender attraction, must await a future answer, perhaps in the next life.
So, here I am, all these years later: ready to teach a chastity lesson to a group of young men at church. Fortunately for each of us the stigma of an open discussion regarding sex, chastity and education is improving in the church. In the recent years I have sensed a more open dialogue and willingness to discuss difficult topics within the church. One example is the very topic of same-sex attraction. To my surprise (and shock) the lesson actually has a section devoted to the topic of same gender attraction!
Aaronic Priesthood | Lesson Topics: Chastity
Ask the young men how they would help a friend who is struggling with same-gender attraction. Invite them to look for ideas in Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s article “Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction.” Encourage them to write a letter that could help their friend. What else do they learn from Elder Holland’s article?
I am so happy to be able to address such a powerful topic to the youth. I know some will find it to be embarrassing, some won’t glance up from their iPhones, some will giggle and snicker, but hopefully one or two will know that I care for them; that I want them to find joy in their journey. I want them to know they aren’t broken or invaluable or less loved. They are sons of loving Father who knows them for who they can become.
How great is our calling!
Not long ago I received a letter from a man in his early 30s who struggles with same-gender attraction. His struggle has not been easy, and he has not yet married. But, he wrote, “the Lord has helped me face my current circumstances, and I am content to do my best and leave my life in His hands.”
I weep with admiration and respect at the faith and courage of such a man who is living with a challenge I have never faced. I love him and the thousands like him, male or female, who “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12). I commend his attitude to all who struggle with—or who are helping others who struggle with—same-gender attraction. – Elder Jeffery R. Holland