What is Truth: Gays, Believers and Apostates
As has been pointed out by numerous commenters throughout the (relatively short) life of my blog (at http://invictuspilgrim.blogspot.com), a gay (active/post/ex-/inactive/anything in between) Mormons relationship to the LDS Church is often complicated. The reason for this should be obvious (but perhaps isnt to many members of the Church). Many gay Mormons (I use this term to refer to any gay person who is or has been a member of the LDS Church) go through intense agony as a result of trying to remain true to what they have been taught, true to what they believe, yet true at the same time to themselves.
This post is substantially similar to a (media-enhanced) post I published today on my blog that constitutes the eighth and final letter to Anonymous. I started the series of letters after Anonymous posted a comment on my blog that basically posed the question of whether I thought it was worth it to give up my exaltation in order to come out and live the rest of my life as a gay man. Even though Anonymous subsequently identified himself as Bryan, I continued to address the letters to Anonymous because I thought the premises of Bryans comments were similar to those shared by many anonymous members of the LDS Church.
Where Gay Mormons Are At
After going through the trauma of coming to accept who and what they are, gay Mormons often end up at very different places on the spectrum of Mormon belief, from desiring to retain full affiliation with the Church to complete rejection of not only the Church but any belief in God, period. In between these two extremes are many, many places where gay Mormons find themselves, either temporarily or permanently or somewhere in-between.
Many gay Mormons would choose to remain in the Church if they could. But most feel driven out, either explicitly or implicitly, feeling that they simply cannot stay in a place where they are not welcome. (I should probably state, by the way, that I in no way purport to speak for all gay Mormons.)
And it is not only gays who are or feel driven out; in many instances, straight members of their family, such as their parents, feel they can no longer affiliate with a church that condemns their children. I have personally listened to long-standing stalwart members of the Church declare with sincerity and conviction that they can no longer affiliate with a Church that condemns their son or their daughter. I heard, just this past Sunday, such a member ask at a gathering how any gay or lesbian could possibly desire to remain active in a Church that condemns and rejects people because of their sexuality.
At the same gathering, however, I heard another stalwart couple express their love for and desire to remain active in the Church, while at the same time acknowledging that the journey they have been on (presumably because of a gay son or lesbian daughter) has opened their minds and hearts to things they couldnt have previously imagined. It shouldnt need to be said, but I will point out that both of these scenarios involve extremely painful journeys that are almost as traumatic as those experienced by their gay loved ones.
Of course, there are many who would say that the Church doesnt drive anyone out; people choose to leave, or they are asked to leave because their lives are not in harmony with the teachings and commandments of the Church; the Church does not ask people to leave or take away privileges (e.g., temple recommends [see http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/article-13533-man-fired-from-lds-church-for-refusing-to-give-up-gay-friends.html]) simply because they are gay.
The truth, however, is that it does. And despite what the headquarters of the Church teaches, the fact of the matter is that gay members of the Church are handled differently from ward to ward and stake to stake, depending on the attitudes and personalities of bishops and stake presidents. Some bishops and stake presidents are very tolerant and loving of gays; others, less so. Thats just the way it is. Which kind of says something not only about the ability of Church Headquarters to effect change at a local level but also about the conflicting inspiration that these various local church leaders receive concerning the same issues.
So, what happens after gays are driven out of the Church, one way or the other? They end up at these various places on the spectrum of belief and participation. But, as Pablo, a commenter on my blog, pointed out, deciding to leave the church behind is not the path to outer darkness that some in the Church believe it to be. Mormons still grappling with their views about gay people might find some unexpected enlightenment if they open, ever so slightly, the blinds that Mormon culture so often and so unfortunately places on the windows of the church and the homes of its members.
They might learn, for example, about couples such as Trey and his partner. I have a very loving, supportive, joy-filled relationship with a man, Trey wrote last week. To you [Anonymous] that may appear repugnant. Our relationship is every much as beautiful as the best love-at-home Mormon family. We pray together, we go to church together; we live in harmony and mutual support. We feel Gods love and acceptance. LDS people think they have a monopoly on spirituality and on Gods blessings and acceptance. They generally have no idea concerning the breadth of Gods love.
They might also learn that many gays have ended up in a place similar to that where many straight Mormons are found, i.e., a place that recognizes the difference between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church. Without getting into a tit-for-tat discussion that would not be useful, suffice it to say that many Mormon gays believe in the Gospel, but not so much in the Church.
For example, a gay Mormon who is still active in the Church wrote in a comment: I believe that when the Book of Mormon says that men are that they might have joy, it is speaking truth, both for this life as well as for eternity. As a gay man once married to a wonderful straight woman, raising tremendous children, serving in a variety of Church leadership positions, I never understood what joy was. I had happy moments, but in my trial never felt the joy that the Gospel is intended to bring. Since divorcing and actually being true to who I am [a gay man], I have amazingly experienced a fullness of joy EVERY day–joy so profound it often causes me to tremble with gratitude for a Father who loves me for who and what I am and is willing to share His Spirit with me in a profound and immutable way.
It is so easy to live in a world constructed of cultural norms that is in reality antithetical to the teachings of the Gospel of Christ. Because it is easy, too many members of the Church choose to live in such a world of blacks and whites rather than a world of sunshine and rainbows as Heavenly Father intended. I’m grateful that God led me into a world of color and with it, a world of boundless joy.
The Apostate Label: Argumentum ad hominem
Anonymous, the person to whom I was addressing my letters, stated on three separate occasions in follow-up comments that he wouldnt have bothered posing his initial question if he had believed that I dont believe the LDS Church is the Lords true Church, if I disbelieve the Church, or believe the LDS Church to [not] be correct. After all, he wrote, if such were the case, I would have no problem going against [the Churchs] teachings and will likely not believe [Im] giving anything up by doing so.
On the surface, these comments by Anonymous seem, in a (very generous) way, fair and reasonable enough. But something lurks beneath the surface at least in my view. For one thing, he wasnt quite sure where I was at with respect to the Church, and it appears he was intrigued by the concept of me being believing, yet still embracing homosexuality, and he wanted to try to flush me out.
Far more insidious, however, is the apparent attitude that believes that if someone is apostate i.e., they no longer believe the LDS Church is the Lords true Church, or disbelieves the Church or believes the LDS Church to [not] be correct, then anything that person says, no matter how articulate, well-reasoned or substantiated by real experience, anything that person says can be dismissed as being tainted by apostasy; in other words, a classic ad hominem attack. In the Mormon world, if one can label a person on the other side of an argument an apostate, then the argument is over, so far as faithful members of the Church are concerned. Such an attitude is, unfortunately, all too common within the Church today.
But, just for the sake of argument, lets consider his words for a moment. I assume that what he meant by his questions is, do I believe the LDS Church to be true, meaning, presumably, the only true and living church on the face of the earth with which the Lord is well-pleased. Or did he mean that the Church is the vessel of true principles? Or did he mean that the Church is the only organization that possesses, through the priesthood, the authority to act in the name of God? Or did he mean that what the Church teaches is correct, whereas other churches teach that which is incorrect? What does it mean to say that the Churchs teachings on homosexuality are correct or incorrect? Does that mean, do they reflect ultimate Truth?
Like I told Anonymous, I dont mean to be facetious; Im simply trying to make a point:
What is truth?
There is a term that is used in the LDS Church. Other Christians use it, too, but to them it means something a little different that what it means to Mormons. The term: the Pearl of Great Price. In the Mormon world, one tends to use it with reference to a volume of LDS scripture or as a reference to the restored Gospel, usually in the context of someone converting to the Church and accepting the restored Gospel.
Christians, however, typically refer to the term in context of a parable of the Savior: one must actively seek in life for that which is of supreme value (the pearl), and when one has found it, one must leave behind or sell everything one has accumulated to that point and purchase or obtain the pearl, which is extremely precious and costly. In the narrowest sense, for most Christians, the pearl is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ himself.
I would like to apply this parable to my own situation as a gay man who has finally come to terms with his sexuality. I have sought long and hard throughout my life for a cure for being gay, until I finally found the pearl of great price the same pearl that others like me have found. What is this pearl? A knowledge and joyful acceptance independent of any man, church or creed – of who I am and who I was created to be, together with the sure knowledge that God loves me and accepts me just the way I am.
Any life, no matter how long and complex it may be,
is made up of a single moment,
the moment in which a man finds out,
once and for all,
who he is.
– Kahlil Gibran
This is really beautiful. I have a gay friend who was raised a Baptist and has gone through similar internal wrestlings and found similar joy and acceptance in God’s love. His partner is a former Lutheran pastor. They’re very spiritual people.
Trey has it dead on when he says that so many LDS people think they have a monopoly on God and spirituality. It’s just not true.
I’m glad you’ve found your pearl.
Excellent post!! The two things I kept noticing about your words were that 1) you seem keenly aware of the complexity of human experience, the diversity of ways different people can respond to the same situation, and 2) you demonstrate a deep sympathy for the pain that people suffer, whether they are gay or someone they love is gay, when a person finds that their personal identity challenges the truth claims of the LDS church.
So, the argument seems to be absolutism vs. nuance, black and white vs. the rainbow. All I have to say is, rainbows are prettier. 🙂
Excellent post! as a former Mormon, and a gay man, this post helped me tremendously. I took the extreme of turning away from god entirely until i found spirituality a little later in life. My partner is a recently out former BYU student who still holds the church true to his heart. it has been an uncomfortable topic between the two of us, because he was able to come out and be mostly accepted, where as I was was told very hurtful things by my young mens leaders and bishop. we both took very different paths, but still found spirituality and god, just in different places.
Thank you for this post, and helping me to see a different path that some may take, and understanding it
@Leah – Thank you for your comments, Leah and for your best wishes. They are appreciated.
@Carla – I am humbled by your comments. I would strive to be a person such as you describe. And I agree: rainbows are prettier.
@Jason – I’m glad my own experience resonated with you, Jason. There is so much beauty out there, so much for all of to learn – if we just allow ourselves to remain open to it. Thank you for sharing your experiences!
Very interesting post. While i agree that you must be able to accept what you are, i do not think that means you must act on all of your impulses in order to be true to yourself. My sister for example, is an alcoholic and a mormon. She is true to herself as she tries to live up to her beliefs and quit drinking. She is also bisexual. Although she is open about her bisexuality, she still strives to stay true to herself by following the commandments she believes are right, thus abstaining from homosexual encounters.
also just FYI, The new church handbook makes it very clear that same sex attraction is not a sin. One can be open about one’s sexual preference and still be regarded as worthy.
Are you married? If you are, what would you think if someone described your marriage as you just “acting on all your impulses”? Would you agree with them?
Or would you say something like, “My marriage is much more than that”? And if you would say that, why not give gay people the benefit of the same doubt? Why not consider the possibility that they are doing something more than “acting on all their impulses”? Why not consider that maybe they simply want the same thing you want, love and everything that goes with it?
I am fully aware of the love in homosexual relationships. and i understand why it is desirable to have a loving partner to whom you are attracted. I am merely stating that there are different ways to “be true to yourself”. admitting homosexual preferences and still striving to keep all the church’s commandments are not necessarily mutually exclusive actions. ps interesting you assumed i am straight.
Accepting homosexual orientation and not striving to keep the church’s commandments is not at all the same thing as “acting on all one’s impulses.” Nor is homosexuality a disease or affliction like alcoholism. When people express themselves in heterosexist terms like those, I tend to assume that they’re straight. But obviously that assumption is unwarranted in many cases. I apologize if you’re one of them.
“admitting homosexual preferences and still striving to keep all the churchs commandments are not necessarily mutually exclusive actions.”
Yes, but keeping the church’s commandments as an admittedly gay person and having feelings of happiness/satisfaction/fulfillment tend to be mutually exclusive.
@Robbie – I think the way you expressed yourself in #7 is preferable to the expression you used in #5 (“act on all your impulses”). You quite rightly point out that some gay Mormons choose to accept/affirm their sexuality and not act upon or express that sexuality in any way, in compliance with current church policy.
As to your comparison of homosexuality to alcoholism in Comment #5, this is unfortunately not an uncommon practice among church members. I wonder if you appreciate how deeply offensive such a comparison is to gays and lesbians. To make this comparison – of a physical and emotional sickness/addiction to one’s sexuality – shows a profound misunderstanding and misconception of the nature of homosexuality. Among other things, it reduces being gay (whether simply “being” gay or including giving expression to one’s sexuality) to almost animalistic terms and treats it as a sickness.
As to your comment in #5 regarding recent changes to the handbook, yes, the Church’s official policies appear to be changing. In theory, one can now admit to being gay and, so long as one is completely “chaste” (refrains from ANY expression of one’s sexuality), then one can still be “regarded as worthy” (an expression which I personally have issues with, but which is the subject of another post at another time). I say “in theory” because the actual practice at local levels, where discipline is administered, appears (based on personal knowledge of situations along the Wasatch Front and anecdotal evidence in blogs, personal e-mails, etc.) to vary widely throughout the church. The situation is extremely murky, and the waters were muddied further by President Packer’s extremely unfortunate remarks at last October’s General Conference. When there is such a stark disconnect between theory and practice among the highest ranks of general authorities, it is hardly surprising that such a disconnect exists between headquarters and local units.
I am sorry if i offended anyone by comparing alcoholism to homosexuality. I did not mean to, they are clearly different things entirely. I merely meant compare the struggle to follow commandments perceived or actual.
“Yes, but keeping the churchs commandments as an admittedly gay person and having feelings of happiness/satisfaction/fulfillment tend to be mutually exclusive.” While some (maybe even most, i simply don’t know) may find this to be the case, clearly these are not necessarily mutually exclusive either. I, at least, know several people who find happiness/satisfaction/fulfillment in their openly gay and “chaste” lives. of course i know several people who don’t feel this way, but im not saying everyone feels the same. im saying its possible to feel different ways.
I do not have any personal experience with local leaders acting pigheadishly nor have i heard any first hand accounts in person, however, i am 100% convinced these things do happen. and its ridiculous, well its just sad really.
From a literary perspective, I think there’s no problem comparing romantic love to addiction, so long as both hetero and homo love are portrayed this way. One of the major themes of my novel was to get at the bottom of the gay/addiction metaphor. The protagonist works at a detox center. Throughout the novel, whenever he’s attracted to his boyfriend (who is a rather orthodox Mormon in questioning phase), the main character jokes about being “addicted.” And when they break up and he can’t get the other guy out of his head, he definitely thinks he’s addicted.
If there is an afterlife, I would assume that the connections people actually make during their life will be most important. There’s no reason to think that if “families are forever” that a same-sex couple (with or w/o kids) won’t be forever. Or, even “family” in the way gay people have taken up the term since the 1970s as they were kicked out of their homes: one’s friends and acquaintances beyond the nuclear family. The Church really needs to “queer” their sense of family. As a gay person, when the Church says “family,” I find it rather limiting.
Although I’m young enough that I didn’t personally experience it, I know that there’s one thing the AIDS crisis made clear. It’s that homosexuality is not just about “sex” and carnal selfishness and temptation, but that gay people provide a kind of caring for each other that puts to shame heterosexist theologies that categorize them as somehow having “wayward” inclinations. Unfortunately, gay people in conservative communities never really learned this lesson, because they’re still grappling with their attractions being considered temptations toward evil.
My sense is that the existence of same-sex attraction demonstrates the problems of current Mormon theology. It may take national “genderless marriage” and 20 years more of talk shows and gay characters on TV dramas for church members to realize this — that is, that it’s not just the individual’s responsibility to follow the commandments, but the community’s responsibility to recognize when the commandments and Gospel might have gotten misinterpreted somewhere (e.g, black ordination). For this, I would suggest they come to understand Bible-based theologies that are not heterosexist, and to trust the “winds of the Spirit.”
@Robbie (#11), I think perhaps the larger point of this article is that there is a wide range of experience among those who identify as homosexual and who are or have been associated with the LDS Church. I don’t think anyone was denying that some people do find joy and peace in choosing to remain faithful in the Church and not to express their sexuality, but I believe it’s wrong to assume that this is the only valid choice. It seems presumptuous to assume that what is the right choice for one person can be the only right choice, especially when others have chosen non-church sanctioned options and found the peace and joy that had been missing while they were trying to fit themselves into what was expected. Their experiences are just as valid.
@Robbie (#11) – Thank you for clarifying your comments, Robbie. I appreciate what you wrote in your follow-up. And I understand and appreciate what you wrote about the different paths gays and lesbians take with respect to the Church’s expectations of chastity.
Of course, I hope that (particularly straight) people realize that “chastity” for queers means something a whole lot more than it does for straight people. As far as the Church is concerned, a single straight guy can (and is encouraged to, all things being equal) kiss a girl and be considered “chaste”; a gay guy kissing a guy, however, would not fall in the same category. Being “chaste” for a gay guy means not “acting” upon his desires in any way. Just saying.
@Alan (#12) – Thanks for weighing in here, Alan. I really liked the point you made in your last paragraph – i.e., about the community’s responsibility to recognize when commandments may have gotten misinterpreted. I think we actually see evidence of this among the “Brethren” in their evolving attitudes towards homosexuality; but it is just a beginning.
BTW, I’ve thought of doing (and may yet do) a post entitled, “What Jesus Said About Homosexuality.” Of course, after the title, and perhaps a lead photo, there would be no content; because, umm, he never said anything about homosexuality.
The household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus in Bethany, where Jesus spent a lot of time, is telling. It’s a little odd that Jesuss adult family of choice would consist of two supposed widows and a bachelor. I think a more realistic interpretation is that they were a lesbian couple, as Martha owned the house and there’s no indication that a man ever lived there, other than Lazarus, her “brother,” who maybe himself was also gay. Now what does this say about Jesus? =p
In the OT, David and Jonathan were obviously a couple, and it seems to me that Ruth and Naomi were, too.
People get so angry/defensive when Biblical characters are “queered,” but if you read the passages as a queer person, there’s a kind of anger that builds from the fact that these characters have been “de-queered” in service of heteronorms.