Sunday, December 2, 2007

Preparing for Eternal Service

In some of the discussion on my last post, Geckoman posed a question about relationships. Though it was not his intention to do so, the way he framed the question got me thinking more deeply about my relationship with Göran in an eternal framework.

One of the questions he posed was: "What if, at some future point, the Church evolved toward some level of acceptance of monogamous, committed same-sex relationships?" Of course this is a big if.

(Parenthetically, I'm not big on speculation about what the Church might or might not do at some hypothetical point in some hypothetical future. On this particular issue, I see contradictory trends within the Church. Institutionally or hierarchically, I see tremendous efforts to draw a line in the sand over this issue, and if anything movement away from any institutional acceptance of same-sex relationships. That's one reason why my last post explored ways to make celibacy more feasible or sustainable. However, when we look at the grassroots LDS Church membership, I do see growing acceptance of same-sex relationships at least as a practical, mortal-life response. I do not see many Church members at the grassroots particularly relishing the notion of forcing same-sex oriented individuals to be alone for their entire lives. And BOTH hierarchy and membership seem to be embracing the notion that pushing same-sex oriented individuals into marriage is just plain wrong. But this extended parenthetical observation is neither here nor there in terms of what might become institutionally acceptable at some unknown future point.)

But let us imagine a slightly adjusted Church reality in which, say, monogamous, committed same-sex couples could be baptized and enjoy at least some blessings of membership, maybe even the ability to hold the priesthood and participate in temple work. But let's assume that the Church holds the position that such relationships could not be sealed in the temple.

I would still consider this an enormous boon! Even if I were prohibited from having the priesthood or holding a temple recommend, just being able to be a member, partake of the sacrament, and perhaps even hold certain Church callings I would consider a tremendous blessing. Ability to hold the priesthood and go to the temple would be even greater blessings.

But under these circumstances, I would need to consider: Would I want to strive for a full temple marriage to a woman (in the next life)? (For me, this-life marriage to a woman is something I find incomprehensible and unthinkable. I know myself well enough to know that I am simply not wired in a way that would make that remotely possible.) OR would I settle for a this-life-only marriage to a man? (In many ways, this is already the choice faced by single LDS women or men who might have the opportunity of marrying outside the Church.)

Or another way of framing this question is: How do I understand my relationship to my same-sex partner in the framework of eternity? All things being equal, and Church membership not being at stake or an issue in the equation, would I still choose to be with him even knowing that this could not be an eternal marriage?

As I began to pray earnestly for guidance about my relationship with the Church, one prayer I prayed went something like this: "Father, I am not worthy of exaltation. I will likely never marry in the Temple. But I love you. I want to do whatever I can to build your kingdom, to spread the gospel, to be an instrument of peace and love and hope in the world. Whatever I can do to serve you in whatever capacity, I will. And if my destiny is nothing more than eternal service to those who are destined for a greater glory than I can ever be worthy of, I am still eternally blessed beyond measure. Because service in your name is an eternal blessing. I offer myself to do whatever I can, no matter how minor or menial."

My Father in Heaven answered that prayer, and continues to answer that prayer, which is an on-going prayer of my heart, with a rich outpouring of love, and a super-abundance of the Spirit. Never in my life have I felt such a continual and joyful sense of the Spirit's presence and blessing, as since I have made that prayer my whole life's intent. Through the Spirit, the Lord has promised to use me in ways that will richly bless the lives of others. And I have seen remarkable opportunities for service open up. I have had opportunities to bear my testimony to people and in places and in ways I might never have had if I were a full member of the Church. Am I content? I am more joyful and content and blessed than I ever possibly could have imagined. I am so blessed, that I simply cannot find it in my heart to envy others, regardless of their place in life, their priesthood callings or status in the Church, or their rights or privileges or status as legally married couples, etc. My blessings, the blessings the Lord has given me make me so incredibly happy, it no longer enters into my heart even for a moment to dwell on what others have that I do not have.

So how do I envision my relationship with Göran in light of eternity? I envision our role as companions in service. And so this life, in a sense, becomes an opportunity for us to train ourselves, to prepare for ever greater and greater service, eventually eternal service. Our goal in life is to chip away at selfishness, hardness of heart, and pride; to whittle these things down until they give way to perfect love and unselfishness and humility, and a willingness to do whatever we can to build the Kingdom of God, here below and beyond the veil. My role as a partner/lover is to foster in Göran that love, hope and faith that will prepare him for service. His role is to do the same in me. In order to be a good partner to him, I have had to learn to be unselfish and faithful, so our relationship has been a training ground for me to be eternally unselfish and faithful in relation to God and to all others I will serve. And as I anticipate the major life decisions we are making as a couple -- decisions about foster care and community service and involvement -- I want to see us move as a couple toward ever increasing service to others. This will prepare us for our roles in the next life.

Some people will say, "Are you really content to settle for less, when you could have a marriage for eternity and eternal increase?" My only answer to that is that the depth of joy I find in my love for Göran feels eternal. I would not want to be with anyone else. I love him and no one else. Our love is rich. It is multifaceted. It is growing. It blesses me and it blesses him. It will continue to grow throughout this life and it will continue to grow in the next. And we may not be "married" for eternity and we may not have "eternal increase." But I have nothing to mourn or be ungrateful for. No, God has blessed us beyond measure, and through the Spirit we have a promise of even greater blessings if we are faithful.


Mr. Fob said...

(In many ways, this is already the choice faced by single LDS women or men who might have the opportunity of marrying outside the Church.)

This is a very interesting comparison. Before Foxy and I separated earlier this year, we were seeing an LDS marriage counselor who had decided from day one that divorce was the best solution to all our problems. Once we told him that I had left the church, he said to Foxy, "Well, then this is basically a dead-end marriage for you. You won't be with him eternally if he's not in the church." I can see how, from an LDS perspective, that's a convincing argument, just like the argument that being in a same-sex relationship is fruitless in an eternal sense. Foxy's response, I think, reflects a mature approach to her relgion, not unlike yours--she's said, more or less, that at this point she can't possibly understand how things will play out in the eternities. She knows what is right for her right now, though, so she goes with that and trusts that God will handle the rest. This fits with my understanding of the LDS God; he doesn't expect you to fully comprehend the eternities, so he gives you the guidance you need for the moment and expects you to proceed from there on faith. I think the Mormon tendency to speculate about the future, to make conclusions about the eternal consequences of mortal decisions, is a step away from this faith at the core of LDS doctrine. (With the caveat, of course, that I say so as an outsider looking in.)

Forester said...

Your testimony, your faith and your humility are greater than many who currently enjoy membership in the church. You make a strong argument for allowing gay men and women to be members of the church. It's amazing that you don't pass harder judgment on the church for not allowing you membership.

Although your relationship with Goran will probably never be sealed in eternal marriage, I'm sure that your relationship with him will be an eternal one.

Eleanor's (and X's) Papa said...

It's not necessarily a Mormon thing, but I think some people are just oriented to be particularly concerned with eschatology and afterlifes, and others of us just aren't.

I've known unbelievers who were miserable because they feared death and couldn't believe in anything more, and religious folks who find life bearable only because of the hope of glory; but I've also known also both humanists and religious believers (like most in the Jewish tradition) who are happily focused only on this life, and don't worry about anything beyond.

Personally I happen to be in the heaven-can-wait camp (although oddly in an opposite sense from you and Foxy, since you guys are optimists about eternity, and I'm comfortably agnostic about other worlds). But I do find that focusing on now makes me even more impatient and political.

J G-W said...

Mr. Fob - I found myself strangely moved by your statement here, I don't fully understand why. At first I was struck by the multiple layers of irony in this situation. But then this morning after my prayers, I found my thoughts drifting back to your description of your wife's faith and tenacity in this situation, and I wept. I am so moved by the love between you two. Please give FoxyJ a great big hug for me.

Forester - There's no reason for me to be angry. I am the Lord's, and the Church is the Lord's, and I know that everything will work out in the end.

Papa - I admire humanists, agnostics and atheists, because almost every one I have ever known was a loving, gracious person, fundamentally concerned with truth and justice. I love people who are concerned with ethical living NOT because they believe they will be rewarded in some future life, but because they know it is the right thing to do. To me, your motives for doing right are far more Christ-like than those who are obsessed with punishment for wrong or reward for right behavior.

I am also grateful for the valuable work that I believe atheists and agnostics perform, in pointing out the inconsistencies and idolatries in the attitudes of believers. There are many beliefs about God that are false, many religious attitudes that are hateful, and atheists are the ones not afraid to point out when the emperor is wearing no clothes. The belief of believers is benefited in the process.

I am a believer because of unique and powerful spiritual experiences and encounters I have had. Not everyone has those experiences, others of us have to walk by faith. Others of us choose to walk without faith, but to seek justice, mercy, and love in everything they do. You are doing what you need to do, and I am very, very grateful for you!