Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"God Loveth All Children": Seattle Sunstone Panel

Check out this post on the Sunstone blog. There are videos of a panel discussion at the Seattle Sunstone Symposium responding the the pamphlet "God Loveth His Children," featuring Ron Schow, Clark Pingree, and Clark's brother Dan.

Here are my observations on the panel discussion:

Ron said he felt the new Church literature on this subject described homosexual orientation as a “core characteristic” of individuals. It is true that the pamphlet “God Loveth His Children” acknowledges that homosexual orientation encompasses emotional and social elements, not just physical/sexual. But the thrust of the new literature is to suggest that homosexuality is not part of our eternal natures or selves. I suspect the general authorities who’ve made recent statements — Elder Oaks, Elder Wickman, Elder Holland — would not describe homosexual orientation as “core.” It has been explicitly suggested that homosexuality will vanish in the next life.

Ron correctly points out that this is a brand new theological position. In fact, I think it runs contrary to fundamental Mormon understandings of the continuity of human character between this life and the next. See, for example, Alma 34:34: “that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.”

This is where Clark’s testimony is important. He and many other gay men and lesbians (and I include myself) have experienced our sexual orientation as a core aspect of who we are. When we embrace this aspect of ourselves, we find peace, we feel closer to others and to God, and we find true joy in loving relationships with members of the same sex. When we reject this aspect of ourselves, we experience intense conflict, anguish, depression, and become alienated from friends, family, and from God. To us, this feels like part of our “created,” God-intended selves, as Clark repeatedly emphasizes throughout his talk. So many of us still feel a fundamental disconnect between some of the official statements, and our deepest, profoundest experiences.

I have a testimony of the Church. I feel drawn to Church fellowship, and have been attending Church regularly for two years now, and have sought to live as many principles of the gospel as I can, while also honoring my 15-year loving commitment to my same-sex partner, and given the restrictions of being excommunicated. Clark apparently has a testimony as well, though he acknowledges that he has distanced himself from the Church in significant ways.

Another piece of Clark’s presentation that I can totally relate to is his very strong sense of connection to his Heavenly Father — the love and guidance and comfort he feels he has received from God in coming to terms with this. I have experienced this as well, and an incredible outpouring of the Spirit as I have returned to regular Church attendance and incorporating regular prayer, scripture study, and the word of wisdom into my life, and as I have applied the principles of chastity to my relationship. I have felt completely embraced by God and supported in this path.

I do not feel any obstacles at all or any contradiction at all between the fundamental principles of the Gospel, or between my life as a spirit child of our Heavenly Father, and my loving relationship with my partner. There are obvious disconnects between my experience and current Church practice. I’m not sure what to make of those disconnects, but I pray that the Church will willingly listen to our experiences and be willing to wrestle with the disconnects as a community, so that we don’t have to wrestle with them painfully and alone, as we have had to do for so many years.


Chris said...

Clark apparently has a testimony as well...

This is no doubt going to sound a bit odd coming from a someone who was LDS for nearly 20 years, including 5 years as a bishop, but I increasinly don't know what having a testimony means. Does it mean that you believe in the truth and authority claims of the Church? Does it mean that it is a conduit to/from God? Does it mean that its claims are universal or individual or both? My experience both inside and outside the church leads me to believe that it means many things to many people privately, but it tends to mean one thing publicly: I believe the LDS Church is God's church.

I have not yet watched this presentation, but I have certainly spoken with gay LDS men who express that they have a testimony, but when you dig a little deeper, that doesn't seem to mean the same thing to each man who says it.

I suppose that's understandable, and probably as it should be.

J G-W said...

The way I understand it (certainly the way I meant it when I wrote this) is in the sense that the book of Revelation describes testimony (19:10): "The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy."

I understand testimony as having received and accepted the presence, witness and companionship of the Holy Spirit. This includes being assured of God's existence and love for us. But it also includes awareness of the way God is at work in the world and in the Church. So it can (and for me certainly does) include a testimony of the Church. But that's not all it's about.

What struck me most about Clark's statement was the apparent tenderness and love he has experienced directly from his Heavenly Father, reassuring him that he is OK. I have experienced this too in some pretty dramatic ways.

Chris said...

I have experienced it as well.

Anonymous said...

I was at this symposium--clark's voice was powerful. though the audience was presumably more tolerant/liberal than the average mormon crowd, still it appeared that for many, this face to face encounter did more than a thousand articles and media interviews could ever do.