Revising Eternity: 27 Latter-day Saint Men Reflect on Modern Relationships
Edited by Holly Welker
272 pp. University of Illinois Press, $19.95
“I always knew that ‘good Mormon boys’ did three things: they went on missions, graduated from BYU, and married in the temple,” writes Scott Blanding, a gay man who came of age during the 1950’s and ’60’s, and one of the contributors to Holly Welker’s new anthology, Revising Eternity.
A follow-up to Baring Witness, her well-received female take on Mormon dating and marriage, Revising Eternity explores the male experience through the eyes of a diverse group of LDS men, all of them striving to balance strict gospel standards with complex real world challenges.
As with her female subjects, Welker’s male contributors cut across a broad spectrum: straight, gay, bi and transsexual. Believers and non-believers. Some are divorced, some married, some never married. Some are non-believers with a believing spouse, some the other way around. Some struggle with mental and physical illness.
“There’s a lot of social capital attached to having that big van full of kids,” says Joey Franklin, who questions the traditional gender roles within his faith. Likewise, Stephen Carter, whose home teacher “laughed out loud” when Carter told him he was a stay-at-home dad.
Michael Carpenter obediently adheres to the “good Mormon boy” formula. That is, serving a mission, marrying upon return, and having kids right away. At the same time, finishing his education, supporting his family, and fulfilling his church callings. Unable to meet such unreasonable demands, Carpenter feels like a failure in all his endeavors. It’s a familiar story, and a reminder that the priesthood doesn’t afford many perks for an earnest, well-meaning man who is low on the hierarchal totem pole.
Also not surprising are stories of hasty marriages between couples in their early twenties, some successful, some not, and all with their own challenges. Boyd Jay Petersen’s touching story of his separation from his lesbian wife is a highlight. Also Joseph Broom’s tale of marrying a woman to suppress his sexuality, until Boyd K. Packer’s 2010 talk on the “abomination” of homosexuality becomes the shelf breaker that leads him to the find love of his life.
Of course, sexual repression figures into all of this. An amusing account from Nicholas Don Smith revisits the pre-marital ban on any sexual activity, discussion, or even thoughts. “We just figured…once you got married to your beloved, the sexy stuff unlocked like some special feature in a video game.” Having been taught that sex is akin to murder, Smith feared his first act of prepubescent masturbation made him guilty of “homicide.” He went on to become a “serial killer.”
Do all of Welker’s contributors need to leave the gospel behind in order to find happiness? Not necessarily.
As mentioned earlier, some are still active believers, while others merely reapply the teachings of their faith to their current situations. For example, Andrew Spriggs, whose lingering belief leads him to a gay dating app–because it says in Genesis, “It is not good that man should be alone.”
Neither faith promoting nor detracting, Eternity is a compilation fit for the larger Mormon community, an examination of what it was to be a “good Mormon boy” juxtaposed against what it is to be an LDS man. It is a welcome addition to the body of Mormon studies, and more importantly, it’s a really great read.