We’re not talking about a unique challenge here. We’re talking about a common condition of mortality. We don’t understand exactly the ‘why,’ or the extent to which there are inclinations or susceptibilities and so on. But what we do know is that feelings can be controlled and behavior can be controlled. The line of sin is between the feelings and the behavior. The line of prudence is between the susceptibility and the feelings. We need to lay hold on the feelings and try to control them to keep us from getting into a circumstance that leads to sinful behavior.There is a great underlying need in the human psyche to avoid blaming oneself. Otherwise rational people can become completely unreasonable after having done something regrettable. To the extent that my current situation is the result of my own poor choices in the past, I am certainly inclined to say "it's not my fault." I'm inclined to justify and explain why the circumstances conspired against me. Why anyone would have done the same. Why I'm still a good person.
Fully convinced that regardless of it all, I am still a good person, God still loves me, and my infinite value has not been compromised, I now want to step back and seek to understand more about myself without pulling any self-inflicted punches. Unfortunately, as I do so, I expect my conclusions to be extrapolated to others who will feel attacked, and I will probably be roundly criticized. But I'll go ahead and risk it.
Elder Oaks has long been one of my favorite speakers. He's articulate, logical, and just plain fascinating. His insight is astounding, and although I don't always understand immediately what he is saying, I'm always better off for having thought about it.
In particular I've struggled to understand his explanation of the distinction between inclinations, feelings, and behaviors and when one is responsible for each. My medical training inclines me to believe there are situations in which behaviors are not chosen (and the doctrine of the innocence of little children and developmentally disabled persons seems to support this), and I think there are certainly cases where negative feelings are fostered leaving the person culpable for them. But I think these are the exceptions and feelings are typically not chosen while behaviors are. Oaks, I think, agrees.
Feelings are another matter. Some kinds of feelings seem to be inborn. Others are traceable to mortal experiences. Still other feelings seem to be acquired from a complex interaction of “nature and nurture.” All of us have some feelings we did not choose, but the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we still have the power to resist and reform our feelings (as needed) and to assure that they do not lead us to entertain inappropriate thoughts or to engage in sinful behavior.
Some have taken this assessment to be a condemnation of gays for not being able to control their feelings. I think this is an unkind interpretation. I, for one, am plagued by continued unwanted feelings of attraction for men around me. It's happened this morning already, actually. It happens all the time.
For example, during this morning's conference meeting I saw a resident physician that I'm particularly attracted to. When I see him or think about him, I'm faced with a choice of what my mind will do. I can imagine making out with him, or touching his chest, or something perhaps more graphic yet, or I can rummage through my brain and try to remember why it is that I chose to be married. To remember why I believe chastity is virtuous. Honestly, I've responded to attractive men both ways. Over time I believe the better response has become more frequent. It's something I've tried to make happen. Unfortunately, in the past the unworthy response has been fostered and entertained. It's something that has nudged me toward relapsing in porn. It's something I've controlled one way or another through effort or laziness... I either consciously direct my feelings and thoughts or I let them slide where they will. To be the man I want to be, I have a long way to go.
I think my response to these thoughts and feelings contributes to the "inclination" issue. If I have a very graphic fantasy, I'm likely to immediately gravitate to such thoughts next time I see a hot guy. My inclination toward homosexuality is increased. And, honestly, I think this is true for me. I think I've done this and it has contributed to my homosexuality. Even now, as I type this, I've had to consciously work to not absolve myself of blame because my mind keeps telling me such a failure reflects on my value as a person. But that's the fallacy I need to avoid, not the oft suggested fallacy that is actually a truth that my thoughts are largely my own.
I have a feeling God is going to bless me with a long life. I'll keep doing my best to eradicate unwanted feelings, and I think that's what Elder Oaks is suggesting I do. I still have those feelings, but I'm not a bad person.