Alone in the fold: Many LDS gays struggle to cling to faith despite their yearnings
Ty Mansfield and Stuart Matis never met, but they were brothers in church and in spirit. They held to the iron rod of their faith and successfully completed LDS missions. Both also clung to another core belief: If they just prayed hard enough, fasted often enough and read their scriptures long enough, God would change their strong physical attraction to other men.
Both sought professional counseling; both got blessings from their priesthood leaders; both tried hard and cried hard. But the feelings stayed put.
Mansfield almost lost his grip a time or two. Matis finally let go.
As active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, neither man could reconcile his feelings with his faith.
Both men wrote about their struggle: Matis in a suicide note to his parents and Mansfield in a book to fellow Latter-day Saints, explaining his struggle and his way of dealing with it.
"In Quiet Desperation: Understanding the Challenge of Same Gender Attraction," written at the request of publisher Deseret Book, was penned by Mansfield with Matis' parents, Fred and Marilyn Matis, to explain what life was like for Stuart and his family, and to provide hope for Latter-day Saints, their families and anyone else dealing with same-sex attraction.
"I knew I wasn't going to convince anyone the church is right," Mansfield said, noting he expects his readers are made up of active Latter-day Saints who already understand the church's position that homosexual activity is sinful, while acknowledging there are members who struggle to remain faithful to LDS teachings. Filled with scriptural metaphors, "The book doesn't tell them they are inherently evil or wrong or broken. I wanted to inspire hope," Mansfield said.
He doesn't pretend that life is easy. In fact, he doesn't pretend anymore. Yet he believes many Latter-day Saints are so uncomfortable with the topic that there's "a tendency just to dismiss it or believe that maybe it's just a phase that will eventually pass. "Then you reach a point where you have a spiritual crisis," whether personally or as a parent or sibling.
As a former student at Brigham Young University, Mansfield says he reached a point where "I felt I would go crazy if I didn't deal with it. I was bottled up for so long, feeling inherently evil and feeling my existence is evil. I wanted to believe that the church isn't true, but I knew that it is. I couldn't let go of that."
Stuart Matis couldn't either. But the despair of knowing "I'll never be right with God no matter what I do," as he told his parents in the suicide note, was pulling on him. No matter how much he polished it with abiding prayers, firm faith and regular temple attendance, his mother said recently, Stuart always saw rust on his armor.
"I am now free," he wrote in his note. "I am no longer in pain, and I no longer hate myself. As it turns out, God never intended for me to be straight. Perhaps my death might be the catalyst for some good."
His parents, now retired and living in a quiet neighborhood in northern Utah County, are doing their stalwart-LDS best to build a foundation of understanding from what so many regard their millstone.
"We just hope that his story how he lived and what he lived with will help people know who he was," his mother said recently looking at her son's picture. "And to understand understand that we all have challenges, that we don't ask for them, and we don't choose what they'll be."