Individuals struggling with same-gender attraction should not let their challenges define their entire identity nor succumb to the increasing cultural confusion swirling around the topic of homosexuality.
That was Elder Bruce C. Hafen's message Saturday morning at the two-day annual conference for Evergreen International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Latter-day Saints diminish same-sex attraction. The organization, which has no affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held its conference at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.
"You are not simply a child of God. You are a son or a daughter of God, with all the masculine or feminine connotations of those words," Elder Hafen, a member of LDS Church's Quorum of the Seventy, told conference attendees Saturday.
"That is your true, eternal identity," he said. "I urge you to seek a testimony, even a personal vision, of that identity. I ask you to take every possible step, each day, to align your physical and emotional life with the spiritual reality of who you really are."
With his background in family law, Elder Hafen, the former dean of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School, listed four misconceptions that he said activists try to establish as facts to try to influence policymakers and the public:
That same-gender attraction is an inborn and unalterable orientation.
That therapy cannot treat, let alone change, same-gender attraction.
That most Americans favor same-gender marriage, which means the church is outside the mainstream in opposing it.
And that there are no rational, nonreligious reasons for opposing same-gender marriage.
Of the latter, Elder Hafen said society and laws have long endorsed marriage between a man and a woman with an honored priority as a significant institution. The result is children of that marriage — the future society — thriving best in a formal family with their own father and mother in a setting befitting society's long-term interests and well-being.
Elder Hafen encouraged conferencegoers to open themselves to God's influence in their lives.
"Then your confidence will grow — not only in him, but in yourself," he said. "I am describing a process, not an event, and it can sometimes seem hopelessly long and difficult. But I promise you that as you learn to connect your righteous desires with his love, his power really will put you home — eventually, all the way home."
Elder Hafen expressed admiration for audience members for their courage and righteous desires and their choosing to deal with a same-sex attraction that they may have not have consciously chosen.
"Sometimes that attraction may make you feel sinful, even though the attraction alone is not a sin if you do not act on it," he said. "Sometimes you may feel frustration or anger or simply a deep sadness about yourself. But as hard as same-gender attraction is … it does not mean your nature is flawed. Whenever the adversary tries to convince you that you are hopelessly 'that way,' so that acting out your feelings is inevitable, he is lying."
Jesus Christ's atonement offers two healing blessings to those challenged by same-gender attraction, Elder Hafen said:
"First, Christ helps us draw on his strength to become more at one with God, even while overcoming the attraction. He helps us bear the burden of the affliction," he said.
"As a second healing and compensating blessing," he later added, "the atonement enables the grace that assures this grand promise: No eternal blessing — including marriage and family life — will be withheld from those who suffer same-gender attraction, if they do 'all they can do' to remain faithful."