On Saturday, Evergreen International held its annual conference at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. Evergreen is a non-profit organization that ‘helps’ LGBT Mormon youth “diminish same-sex attractions and overcome homosexual behavior.” Each year, a general authority of the LDS Church gives the keynote address at the conference.
Elder Bruce C. Hafen spoke at Evergreen last year. His address was widely regarded as a step backward for the LDS Church on homosexuality. You can read his address here. This year, Bishop Keith B. McMullin delivered the keynote address. Details from The Salt Lake Tribune:
An LDS general authority on Saturday comforted Mormons who are attracted to people of the same sex but want to live by the church’s chastity rules, which bar sexual acts outside of marriage between a man and a woman.
“Each of us has problems,” said Bishop Keith B. McMullin, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Together, we shall overcome them.”
On Saturday, McMullin said people with same-sex attraction should not call themselves “gay” or “lesbian.” He offered advice to LDS ecclesiastical leaders in the audience of about 200 people.
“If someone seeking your help says to you, ‘I am a homosexual,’ or, ‘I am lesbian,’ or, ‘I am gay,’ correct this miscasting,” McMullin said. “Heavenly Father does not speak of his children this way and neither should we. It is simply not true. To speak this way seeds a doubt and deceit about who we really are.”
He said every individual is a “son or daughter” of God. Jesus Christ, McMullin said, has the power to lift the “burden” of every “man and woman, boy and girl.”
Evergreen still maintains, contrary to the scientific evidence, that many homosexuals are able to change their orientation. John Paulk, who also spoke at this Evergreen conference, is supposedly evidence of this. He left homosexuality in 1987, and in 1992, he married a former lesbian. The two of them have made a career out of promoting their “ex-gay” success stories. I bet, though, that Paulk neglected to tell the Evergreen audience that he was caught flirting with men at a D.C. gay bar in 2000.
I know several people who attended Evergreen in the past as gay Mormons. Most reported that their experiences there were negative. “All I got out of it was a perpetuation of the depression and unhealthy attitude I had.” one friend told me.
The American Psychological Association has expressed serious concerns about so-called reparative or conversion therapies. “The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness,” the APA states on their website. “It does not require treatment and is not changeable.”
In other sexual repression-related news, a Utah State University (woo!) research team of psychologists found that obsessive religious guilt over viewing porn is counter-productive.
Struggling with urges to view leads to more viewing and more psychological problems. In other words, the normal ways we know to reduce things in our lives (avoid or deliberately change what you do not want) has the exact opposite effect than what was intended.We have seen that pattern before in areas such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Here is the recipe. Take an urge or an odd thought; mix thoroughly with negative emotions, sensations, or images; then fold in a heaping helping of suppression and avoidance (pushing out of mind; engaging in ritualistic undoing). Voila. Obsessive stew.
Every time you check to see if your suppression worked – well, it didn’t. You just thought of it. Again. More negative emotions. More attempts to control. More checking to see if it went away. More struggling.
This psychological phenomenon may help explain why Utahns consume the most online porn in the nation*.
For those who think their porn viewing is unhealthy, the USU researchers recommend “acceptance and commitment therapy” (ACT), which encourages acceptance and mindful awareness of a problem instead of fixation on controlling the problem.
Finally, the first controlled study ever done on how to address problematic Internet pornography viewing has been published. It appears in the September 2010 issue of the well-respected clinical research journal Behavior Therapy. Twohig and co-author Jess Crosby applied eight sessions of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to problematic viewing. As participants learned to accept the urge, to watch it rise and fall mindfully, to embrace themselves in a kinder and less judgmental way, and to pivot toward valued actions, something remarkable happened. Viewing became far less frequent, but what was remarkable was how that happened. People softened. Religious obsessions went down but positive commitments went up. Obsessive thinking was relieved and with it worry that unbidden thoughts alone cause harm. People became more accepting of their emotions and less entangled with their thoughts. And they were more able to act in accord with their values as a positive goal, carrying difficult thoughts and feelings with them in a more compassionate way.
I don’t think pornography is the social evil some make it out to be. Despite (and perhaps because of) greater exposure to pornography in recent decades, sexual violence in America has declined, and gender equality increased. But pornography is doubtless a problem for many individuals and couples. I’m proud that my alma mater has taken the lead in employing a secular approach to unhealthy porn habits—one that doesn’t inculcate guilt and self-loathing.
*The study I hyperlinked to, which suggests that red states consume the most online porn, is not without its limitations. We don’t know, for example, whether it’s the conservatives or beleaguered liberals in these red states who are viewing porn. Another possible confounding factor is that people in blue states don’t have to go online for porn because they have easier access to other sexual outlets—strip joints, adult stores, etc.