Recently a Salt Lake Tribune blog post entitled “New schism surfaces among gay Mormons” was published. In it, a quote was attributed to North Star’s President, Steven Frei. The quote did not reflect the full context of his or North Star’s position. Given that a few other organizations have made statements on reparative therapy or other sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), some have wondered if North Star had also changed or amended its position on reparative therapy, SOCE in general, or specifically the Journey Into Manhood (JIM) weekend, sponsored by the non-profit People Can Change (PCC), given that some in the North Star community have found it to be of great help in their efforts to live faithful to the gospel.
North Star’s position on these questions has not, in fact, changed, but given that Steven is the current president of North Star, it is important that there be an understanding of where he stands on these issues, and even more importantly that we provide a clearer statement of North Star’s organizational stance. In an attempt to minimize misconceptions, and given it’s my turn to offer our monthly Message from the Directors, I have chosen to offer the following clarification on these matters. In preparing my message, I have worked closely with both Steven and the entire North Star Executive Committee to ensure the accuracy of their positions.
The quote from the Tribune as published reads as follows: he (Steven) “does not believe reparative therapy is necessary or effective in changing one’s sexual orientation. He expressed gratitude for the honest feedback about the ways in which North Star is sometimes misperceived.””
Compare the meaning of the reported statement to the full context of his actual position, which was posted via a Facebook comment:
“North Star does not take an official position on the origin or mutability of homosexual feelings and attractions but supports all efforts consistent with the gospel that help individuals live in more full harmony with their covenants and attain greater peace, fulfillment, and sense of individual worth, while affirming that the most essential and eternal growth and progress come through the power of the Savior and adherence to the teachings of His prophets.
“Some, including myself, have participated in events such as Journey Into Manhood. My involvement was never to attempt to change my orientation. I don’t think it is necessary, nor am I convinced it works. The change that took place in me was shedding the shame that for so long I felt because of my homosexuality. I learned that I am fine and acceptable just the way I am. I received tools that help me, as a man, live authentically as a husband, father, and son of God.
“As far as ‘mixed orientation marriage’ goes, we stand with Church leaders in stating that it should not be entered into as a cure for homosexuality. If both man and woman, with full knowledge of one’s homosexuality, and after much prayer and education choose to enter into marriage, we will do all we can to support them to live faithful to God and to each other.”
Steven’s comment regarding not being “convinced it works,” was to the idea of changing one’s orientation 180 degrees from fully same-sex attracted to fully opposite-sex attracted, a change he has not experienced. The Journey Into Manhood experience, while not changing his orientation, was extremely beneficial to Steven on a deep, personal level. A change in orientation was not a necessity for the change he did experience: the shedding of shame, and the realization that he was good and valuable just the way he was. It helped him see it was possible to live his life authentically and consistent with his religious values. Parenthetically, it’s also important to note PCC’s clarification statement “What We Mean By ‘Change’” to understand that a 180 degrees change in sexual orientation is neither promised by the organization nor sought by many of those who find great benefit in attending the JIM weekend.
While the weekend has been helpful for many on their life path, it is by no means the only course to remaining healthily faithful to gospel principles; many in our community have not taken this route and are still finding great peace and success in their lives, including some present and past members of the Executive Committee and Leadership Council, the two governing bodies of North Star International. These members who have not participated in such events continue to find great peace and success in their lives and their involvement in the Church. Involvement with PCC or the JIM community is not in any way prerequisite to being an active and contributing member of the North Star community, just as it is not a prerequisite to continued involvement in the Church.
Furthermore, PCC specifically states on its website, “Journey into Manhood is not professional therapy.” While many who attend the weekend find it highly therapeutic, it is a peer-led program and this position accurately reflects Steven’s view that the Journey Into Manhood weekend is not a form of reparative therapy, which, if accurately understood, is a specific and specialized therapeutic modality with a narrow set of assumptions developed by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi and employed by very few outside of Nicolosi’s Los Angeles-based clinic. There are many healthy therapeutic approaches to addressing value-based conflicts with sexuality that are not “reparative” in nature and which employ widely used and professionally approved models and therapeutic interventions.
While not mentioned in the article, some groups took Steven’s Facebook comments regarding “mixed-orientation marriage” as a discouragement of them, while other outlets saw it as an endorsement, or even promotion. Simply put, it was neither. It was sound counsel that full disclosure, and much prayer and education are needed before making marriage covenants. This is true for everyone, regardless of the orientation of attraction, and is especially prudent for those who experience same-sex attraction. We acknowledge, as have Church leaders, that not everyone may have the opportunity for marriage in mortality. Some members of the Leadership Council and Executive Committee were not married when they were appointed to those positions, and some of them are remain single. Steven promised that, once such a marriage is undertaken, North Star as an organization will do all we can to support those in such a marriage “live faithful to God and each other” while similarly supporting those who may choose not to marry.
To again speak to our mission and values statements, the mission of North Star is to provide a place of community for Latter-day Saints who experience homosexual attraction, as well as their family, friends, and ecclesiastical leaders. North Star serves those who desire the spiritual and social support that strengthens faith, builds character, and empowers men and women to live in joy and harmony within their covenants, values, and beliefs as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Recognizing the uniqueness of individual circumstance, North Star takes no official position on the origin or mutability of homosexual feelings and attractions but supports all efforts consistent with the gospel that help individuals live in more full harmony with their covenants and attain greater peace, fulfillment, and sense of individual worth, while affirming that the most essential and eternal growth and progress come through the power of the Savior and adherence to the teachings of His prophets.
We will continue to provide opportunities for member of North Star, including to those who may hold leadership positions, to speak about those approaches (both currently available as well as those that may become available in the future) they have found personally helpful to them, so long as North Star determines that these approaches are broadly consistent with, and supportive of, gospel principles. We aspire to provide our members with the broadest and deepest possible menu of gospel-consistent responses to this issue, so we will continue to provide a forum for our members to discuss these approaches, and we continue to support their continued right to seek them out, participate in them, and share their experiences with others. We acknowledge that the distinction between North Star’s official position on these questions and individual leaders’ and members’ personal position on these matters may not have been as clear as it could have been. We will endeavor to make sure the distinction is clearer going forward.
Ultimately, North Star holds that the power and grace of Christ enables each individual to renounce behavior and manage thoughts that will prevent him or her from returning into His presence and testifies Jesus Christ has the power to reach and transform every life, in varied and individual ways. North Star’s ultimate witness is that every individual can find genuine peace and hope in the promises of Christ’s gospel.