Select Page

How Can Family, Friends, and Church Leaders Help?

Group-23_350Your loved one needs the support and encouragement of friends, family, and church leaders to deal with the complex issues that confront them. Healthy and varied connections in church, social, and personal life can make an enormous difference.

People who experience same-sex attraction may feel shame, worthlessness, and fear of rejection. They may feel conflicted about how to reconcile their experience with the principles of the gospel. Acknowledge their courage in disclosing their same-sex attraction and help relieve the shame they feel. Reassure them that God loves them and express your love and willingness to provide emotional and spiritual support. Let them know that there is hope and that people who feel attracted to the same sex can live a life in harmony with the gospel.

This section provides ideas on the following:

  • Provide encouragement. Some people with same-sex attraction will need lots of encouragement and motivation to deal with the complex issues that confront them.
  • Facilitate Support. Living with same-sex attraction is difficult—and much more difficult when faced alone. Healthy and varied connections in church, social, and personal life can make an enormous difference.
  • Encourage Responsibility and Independence. Initial feelings of same-sex attraction are not chosen, but individuals do choose how they respond to them. Parents, spouses, friends, and church leaders can support or detract from an same-sex attraction person’s sense of personal responsibility.
  • Foster Spiritual Growth. Spiritual growth and development are powerful assets in resolving issues related to same-sex attraction. A church leader’s assistance in developing a spiritual growth plan may be very helpful to the individual.
  • Avoid Doing Harm. Certain things can actually be harmful to those with same-sex attraction. Read about some harmful behaviors we’ve observed among church leaders and family members.

Provide Encouragement

SummarySome people with same-sex attraction need lots of encouragement and motivation to deal with the complex issues that confront them.

A family or church member who discloses their homosexuality to you may well be among the most courageous individuals you will ever meet. Opening up about this issue is usually extremely difficult, especially when doing so for the first time. Help them see their own courage.

If discouragement threatens, it may help them if you hold out the vision of how their life can be when they resolve the dilemmas and negative feelings they presently face. They may need to be reminded that the Atonement covers everything, including same-sex attraction. This may be especially true for those who believe they have gone too far or done things for which they cannot be forgiven.

They may need you to show them their own progress as the process moves along. Some people have difficulty noticing their own growth and don’t recognize it until someone else tells them about it.

It is important to maintain a realistic and practical perspective. There is no quick fix for same-sex attraction. Resolving the conflicts, shame, pain, and other negative feelings and ways of thinking related to same-sex attraction takes time. Some people are able to diminish their homosexual feelings, and for others the desires continue. Encouraged them to keep their sights on the idea of progressing gradually and as far as they are able, rather than holding an expectation of quick or total changes.

They may also need help to accept and love themselves even in the midst of their problems. Some people may be very conditional in their self-acceptance: they can only accept themselves once they “get rid” of their homosexuality. You might discuss with them the concepts in the section “What if I Don’t Want to Pursue Homosexual Attractions?

Facilitate Support

SummaryLiving with same-sex attraction is a difficult task, and much more difficult when faced alone. Healthy and varied connections in church, social, and personal life can make an enormous difference in hope and healing.

Individuals with same-sex attraction need support from several sources: family, spiritual leaders, friends, mentors, and skilled professionals. This need for support may continue over a period of several years. Determine with them what support they feel they have and what additional support they believe they need.

We have not found it necessary for everyone in a support network to know about the person’s same-sex attraction. But it is helpful if some of their supporters do know so that the person can be completely open. This helps diminish shame and isolation. People will almost always prefer to be consulted before anyone is told about their same-sex attraction. If the person, rather than a church leader, can be the one to tell others, it will help them feel in control of their own information and give them experience pushing through their shame.

Church leaders may be able to help them acquire additional support by counseling with family members, helping them access professional counseling (when needed), and helping them get connected to healthy members within the church through service opportunities. In choosing how a personal will participate at church, we encourage you to consider opportunities that will create brotherly or sisterly same-sex connections with others at church. Helping them find meaningful ways of being involved is crucial. A trustworthy friend is also enormously important.

Encourage Responsibility and Independence

SummaryInitial feelings of same-sex attraction are not chosen, but individuals do choose how they respond to them. Parents, spouses, friends, and church leaders can support or detract from an same-sex attraction person’s sense of personal responsibility.

The complex circumstances that create homosexuality are outside the control of those who develop same-sex attraction. No one chooses whether or not they will develop feelings of same-sex attraction. As adults, however, we have the capacity and the responsibility to make choices about our lives. You can help your family, church member or friend with same-sex attraction accept this responsibility to guide his or her life in positive ways.

But there are limits to your influence. You can’t choose for them how they will respond to their same-sex attraction. They will, and must, make their own choices. And yet, you can encourage awareness and careful consideration of choices, and responsibility for consequences. And you can encourage them to move toward independence and self-reliance. Supporting a person in this way requires sacrifice of your own desires for their life. Remember, it’s their life, not yours.

Appropriate approaches to encouraging responsibility and independence differ greatly between parents, spouses, friends, and church leaders. But they all begin with you holding a vision of the person with same-sex attraction as a responsible adult. See the individual’s highest potential while accepting and loving them in the present exactly as they are.

Parents

Parents often need to relinquish control and allow their child to assume responsibility for his or her own life.

Parents often need to relinquish control and allow their same-sex attracted child to assume responsibility for his or her own life, assuming the child is old enough to do so. We have observed that failure to develop independence from parents, especially from mothers, is a common trait among males who develop same-sex attraction. If this seems to apply to the relationship with your same-sex attracted child, consider the ideas below. To begin with, hold to the vision of your child as an independent and responsible adult, even if this vision can’t be a reality in the present. Independence includes living on their own, supporting themselves in every way, making all of their own decisions, and being confident and assertive. And it requires that the child doesn’t feel responsible for taking care of your needs or providing for your emotional support. Let this vision guide your interactions with your child. Some children may need only slight encouragement to catch this vision themselves while others may need years of preparation to get there.

Below are some specific suggestions and cautions to keep in mind.

  • Look for opportunities to positively reinforce choices and behaviors that move your child toward greater independence.
  • Avoid making decisions or handling situations for your child that he or she is capable of making or handling themselves.
  • If the child is still living at home or is otherwise dependent, consider small ways in which the child can gain a greater sense of self-reliance and self-governance, even if he or she must remain dependent overall.

If you as a parent are unsure how to implement these ideas, or find them confusing or anxiety producing, we strongly encourage you to seek counseling for yourself with one of our therapists.

Spouses

Spouses need to be focused on their own healing.

As a spouse, you should be focused on your own healing related to your partner’s same-sex attraction and on whatever issues you may have brought with you into the marriage. This allows your partner to focus on working through his or her same-sex attraction and related issues.

Sometimes, out of fear, doubt, or anxiety, spouses can become critical, demanding, or overbearing toward their same-sex attracted partners about coming to terms with their issues. This is understandable but also very destructive in that it tends to remove from the partners the responsibility and sense of independence they must have when facing these issues. Same-sex attracted partners tend to respond to this with passivity, resentment, or resistance.

Friends

Friends are sometimes in a good position to help same-sex attracted people take responsibility for their actions and their futures.

As a friends, you may be in a good position to help your same-sex attracted friend take responsibility for his or her actions and future. Friends are usually not connected with family dynamics that may be causing pain or difficulty for those with same-sex attraction, which allows them greater opportunity to both support and guide.

Your opportunity to have a positive influence in your friend’s life will be determined by the amount of trust you create through demonstrating unconditional love. Your friend will feel your love as you offer consistent support and encouragement, as you accept him or her with all their weakness and difficulties, and as you express compassion in his or her worst moments.

Below are some specific the suggestions and cautions to keep in mind.

  • Balance any advice or correction you offer with many expressions of love, admiration, respect, and affection.
  • If you have suggestions to offer, ask your friend’s permission before doing so and then state your thoughts and opinions with humility.
  • Avoid telling your friend what to do, making decisions for him, or handling situations he is capable of handling himself.
  • Encourage independent thinking and behavior but be cautious about endorsing rebellion against family in ways that could be harmful to your friend’s wellbeing or relationships.
  • Avoid being drawn into the idea that, in order to truly support your friend, you must compromise your values and endorse the gay social and political agenda.
  • Remain true to the beliefs and values you and your friend share in common, even if your friend strays from those values.
  • If your friend’s goal is to diminish his same-sex attraction, encourage counseling with a therapist who has extensive experience helping those with unwanted same-sex attraction. Individuals that work with counselors who lack this experience tend to make slow progress and may end counseling in discouragement.

Finally, be aware that some men and women with same-sex attraction have a strong propensity to create dependencies on friends—particularly on friends of the same sex. If you sense that your friend relies too heavily on your opinion, looks to you too much for help or support, or seems unable to make choices on his or her own, this may indicate an unhealthy dependency. This may also be the case if you find yourself feeling drained by the relationship or feeling responsible for your friend’s wellbeing or safety. If you notice this happening, discuss it openly with your friend and encourage him or her to speak with a therapist about it.

Church Leaders

Those with same-sex attraction are far more likely to receive the positive influence of church leaders who first create trust through demonstrating unconditional love.

Church leaders are often in a position of creating accountability and holding boundaries. They are sometimes also involved in the member’s life financially. In this role, you can encourage ownership of the growth process by working with the member consultatively to set goals related to worthiness and spirituality and by actively following up on those goals.

Our experience suggests that those with same-sex attraction are far more likely to receive the positive influence of church leaders who first create trust through demonstrating unconditional love. They will feel your love as you offer consistent support and encouragement, as you accept them with all their weakness and difficulties, and as you express compassion in their worst moments.

Below are some specific the suggestions and cautions to keep in mind.

  • Look for opportunities to positively reinforce choices and behaviors that move the person toward growth and greater responsibility.
  • Balance any advice or correction you offer with many expressions of love, admiration, and respect.
  • Help the person find counseling with a therapist who has extensive experience helping those with unwanted same-sex attraction. Individuals that work with counselors who lack this experience tend to make slow progress and may end counseling in discouragement.
  • If the person is in therapy and the church is helping to defray the cost, ask the member to pay at least a small portion of the therapy himself or herself to encourage a sense of investment and ownership.

Foster Spiritual Growth

SummarySpiritual growth and development are powerful assets in resolving issues related to same-sex attraction. A church leader’s assistance in developing a spiritual growth plan may be very helpful to the individual.

Teaching same-sex attracted people how to grow in spiritual maturity can greatly enhance every other aspect of their growth process. Obtainable and realistic spiritual and behavioral goals will help them move forward and experience noticeable success. For instance, a valuable spiritual goal might be accountability for thoughts and behaviors related to same-sex attraction. As a behavioral counterpart, you might invite the person to be accountable to you or someone else that you and the he or she agrees on.

During this process of spiritual goal setting, remember that some individuals will be blocked in their spirituality by psychological issues. Some people transfer feelings and expectations that come from less than ideal relationships with their parents onto their relationship with God. Some have been raised in situations where religion was unconsciously used to promote guilt, shame, and compliance. And some will draw away from the Spirit through their own behavior. These people may need substantial healing through professional counseling before they will be able to rebuild their spiritual life.

Avoid Doing Harm

Summary: Certain things can actually be harmful to those with same-sex attraction. Below is a list of some harmful behaviors we’ve observed among church leaders and family members.

  • Encouraging marriage as a solution to same-sex attraction. Through proper therapy, many single men and women with same-sex attraction can progress to a point where marriage is a realistic and appropriate option. However, the growth should come before the marriage. Attempting to engage in a heterosexual relationship will not cause homosexual desires to go away and can lead to extreme distress for the individual and the spouse.
  • Making incorrect assumptions about their attractions posing a danger to other family or church members. While some individuals with same-sex attraction may pose a danger for other adults or youth in the church, most will not. Most adult men with same-sex attraction are not sexually attracted to boys. If in doubt, you should ask them about the nature of their attractions. You might also ask them directly whether they feel attractions toward other church members and whether they ever feel in danger of acting on those attractions.
  • Telling others about the same-sex attraction without the person’s knowledge and consent. Also, insisting that the person tell other family members or church or stake leaders before he or she is ready to do so and before the family members are ready to hear it.
  • Attempting to provide counsel for their psychological or emotional issues. Unless you are a trained professional with experience working with unwanted same-sex attraction, you run the risk of giving incorrect counsel, stirring up issues that you can’t properly handle, and delaying their access to appropriate therapy.
  • Blaming, becoming angry, or demanding to know “why?” Remember, people do not cause their same-sex attraction. Often they don’t understand why they feel or behave as they do. Those who have engaged in homosexual behavior probably can’t provide a logical reason for it. Emotionally-charged responses from you will only damage trust and cause them to pull away.

Seek to understand the person’s situation using questions such as the following:

  • What has been your experience with same-sex attraction?
  • What effect has this had on your life and on your family?
  • How have you responded to these attractions?
  • What has helped you spiritually as you address same-sex attraction?
  • How would you describe your personal connection with God?
  • What would you like to see happen in your future?

Determine how to best minister to those with same-sex attraction.

  • Discuss the topic of same-sex attraction in various settings in the church.
  • Seek to remove shame and combat stereotypes and myths.
  • Avoid offering over-simplified solutions, such as the idea that increased faith, prayer, fasting, or marriage will eliminate same-sex attraction.
  • Help the person develop a support network and plan.
  • Create an environment and culture for all members of the congregation to feel welcomed and loved.

Help the individual with the following:

  • Recognize that same-sex attraction is a is a mortal experience, not an eternal identity.
  • Understand their identity as a child of God and their individual strengths, talents, and abilities.
  • Understand that unworthy actions do not diminish their individual worth.
  • Focus on developing or maintaining healthy spiritual patterns of living. Seek to measure success by coming to Christ and strengthening emotional connections with others, rather than simply by trying to reduce same-sex attractions.
  • Recognize the spiritual strengths they have already developed in facing this difficulty.
  • Seek out spiritual experiences and consistently structure them into their life. Develop healthy, nonsexual, relationships with trusted individuals of the same sex.
  • Identify healthy relationships they have had in the past and understand what made those positive experiences.
  • Establish a support system and help others understand how they can be supportive.
  • Seek to strengthen relationships with family and close friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Recognize the priorities of others who may be helping them and be willing to understand that others also have shortcomings.
  • Find opportunities to serve and work with others through service, fellowship, recreation, and acts of kindness.
  • Change behaviors, patterns, and associations that increase temptation. Identify the most common situations that lead to temptations. Understand the feelings behind those situations (such as loneliness or rejection).
  • Develop a plan of action with alternative responses to limit exposure to triggers. Meet regularly with church leaders or another trusted individuals to discuss progress.
  • Consider utilizing professional help to address addictive behaviors, emotional health challenges, abuse, and other related issues.

Learn more about how to help by reading the page How Can I Get To Know Their Needs?