Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gay / Mormon

As I've observed the Moho blogging community over time, I've noticed a tendency to bifurcate between two extremes.

Either we follow the course of straight-arrow obedience as mixed-orientation marrieds or celibates, and stay active and in good standing in the Church. Or we pursue same-sex partnerships and drift away from the Church. Most folks in the latter category, it seems, insist that they want to hold onto some form of Christian faith. But untethered from the familiar moorings of LDS faith, it seems many of us struggle to define just what that means. Some of us come to feel "burned" by faith in general and end up embracing an agnostic or secular humanistic view. Some of us find our way into some form of liberal, gay-affirming Christianity, or into more radically affirming New Age spiritualities. Many of us nurse anger and feel an enduring, vivid sense of betrayal in relation to the Church.

I've lived both those extremes. My first 23 years, I was the good Mormon boy. The following 19 years I was the angry gay ex-Mormon. The last two or so years I have tried to walk something like a middle course between these two extremes, a middle course I came to only after many years of unsuccessfully seeking spiritual fulfillment away from my LDS roots. But I don't see much evidence out there of others like me who have found affirmation both in their committed same-sex relationship and in some form of active LDS faith. Why is that?

Obviously the Church does not make a path like mine easy. To openly embrace a same-sex relationship means excommunication. For most folks, that fact alone makes the relationship between same-sex partnered individuals and the Church an open and shut case.

But in the course of my own journey with the Church, here are all the reasons why I think this is not an open and shut case:

1) If we have a testimony of the Restoration, our personal status -- in good standing or excommunicated -- doesn't change what we know. Doesn't it behoove us to make some effort to come to grips with our testimony, even when our personal circumstances make a testimony inconvenient, or when our testimonies make our personal circumstances inconvenient?

2) The LDS notion of truth includes the idea that this side of the veil our understanding is always partial. It is only natural that here we will frequently encounter contradictions between the partial truths we hold, and reality as it unfolds. Revelation is a process. Doesn't it behoove us to have patience, even when everything doesn't fit together as nicely as we would like it?

3) All LDS are in a process of growing from lesser light to greater light. As I understand Church history, we as a Church failed to live the higher Law of Consecration. So the Lord withdrew that law and gave us instead the lower Law of Tithing. Just because we can't live every law doesn't mean we should not try to live some law. Doesn't it behoove us to live what principles of the gospel we can live, in preparation for receiving more?

4) Although Church policies deny us membership, Church members genuinely love us. As a Church we are commanded to love one another unconditionally. Doesn't that offer us a context for growth? Why not take advantage of that context, and learn what our Heavenly Parents want us to learn from it?

Part of what militates against accepting a middle path is our own perfectionism. We can't believe that we are less than perfect, or we can't accept a situation that seems less than perfect. Perfectionism contributes to both extremes. We commit to celibacy or marriage, because that's what a "perfect" Mormon does. Then, when we find ourselves succumbing to loneliness or depression, we reject not just the celibacy or the marriage, but the whole belief system.

Part of what militates against accepting this kind of middle path is also, frankly, ego. Men especially in the Church tend to get validation by advancing through a series of ranks, rising in priesthood authority, privilege, and prestige. We advance from primary student to deacon, to teacher, to priest, to elder, to high priest; from baptism to priesthood to temple endowed to temple married. We receive priesthood callings with ever greater visibility and authority. Accepting the intimacy and companionship of a same-sex relationship leads to getting busted back to rank zero: non-member. If all our self-image and sense of validation has come from that external climbing of the priesthood ladder and from our place in the hierarchy, our ego can't take such a demotion. But if our self-image and sense of validation comes from service to others, regardless of rank, being stripped of priesthood status can't ultimately take anything away from us. And isn't this kind of "self-less" (i.e., "ego-less") service, with an eye single to the glory of God (i.e., not an eye to our own glory) the basis for true priesthood power? Is it possible that being expelled from the hierarchy is a blessing in disguise, if we can learn to approach it the right way?

I can't speak for anyone else. But looking at things this way certainly helps me to understand my own anger and sense of betrayal in relation to the Church over the years, as well as the powerful sense of integration, wholeness and peace I've experienced recently, once I was able to understand how this dichotomy of "perfectionist Mormon" vs. "gay rights crusader" worked in my own life.

Part of me wonders if, to look at it another way, I could ever really stop loving the Church. My anger was just the flip side of love. Once I acknowledged the love again, it opened the door to peace. I would rather live with the apparent contradictions and chaos of being a same-sex-partnered gay Mormon man with a testimony and have peace in my soul, than to live a nice consistent life outside of the Church but have a soul smoldering in anger.

I can't accept a nice, liberal Mormonism either, a Mormonism free of mystery, a nice, rational Mormonism that can't tolerate the intellectual offense of miracles like golden plates and angels, the atonement and the resurrection, eternal increase and and the star nearest the throne of God. The spiritual experiences I have had have been too powerful, too transcendent, too undeniable to frame in a nice, rationalistic, liberal framework. I know that Jesus Christ, the real, living human being who walked in Nazareth and Galilee and Jerusalem, lives today. I know that all power to accomplish the entire work of salvation -- from the creation of this Old Earth until the New Heaven and New Earth -- has been delivered into his hands. That truth is greater than the vicissitudes of my poor life. I can't judge that truth. I can only accept judgment in light of it.

At the same time, I have come to accept the parameters of my creation. I don't know how or why, but I am made in such a way that if I am to find intimacy and life companionship, I must do so with a man. I'm only human. I'm not superhuman. I can't make it through this life without a journey companion. I tried it, couldn't do it. I've found such a journey companion and I love him as deeply as I love my own soul. So I've accepted that limitation. I don't despise myself for it. I don't blame God for not making me something or somehow else. To do so would be horribly ungrateful. I'm happy for who I am. I love my partner. I love my foster son. My life is more full of joy than I ever could have imagined possible.

So for me, this middle path is the only thing that can possibly make sense.

Is there anyone else out there who thinks so? Anyone?


Mr. Fob said...

I know other people in same-sex relationships who still believe in the Church, but you are the only one I know who actively attends. Sorry if that's discouraging--I know it can feel lonely to be in these weird gray zones where you don't seem to fit into any established niche.

Beck said...

I am touched by your testimony. You have touched me deeply and personally. I find nothing in your chosen 'middle road' that isn't full of love and goodness, selfless, ego-free service, and praiseworthy - though you seek no praiseworthiness.

I am amazed constantly at the thought of the road you've taken and the circular aspect of some paths you've chosen.

I know you feel alone in your choices. I know it is hard. Though I'm on a different path (that in some ways has lonely and confusing moments as well), but that falls safely within the "perfect" or "acceptable" mormon-boy thing to do, does not imply that I cannot see the wonder and good and incredible mormon-boy you are.

I embrace you in full-fellowship and only wish all would do the same. I can't help but think what an example your untreaded path will be for others who follow.

I know this is a huge e-hug, but to hell with anyone who thinks I'm melodramatic and overly gushy.


tiselfar said...

Shakespeare said it best:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

That is what you are trying to do, and I say, good on you.

love betty

Ron Schow said...

Nice post, John. You provide some valuable thinking to support your current choices.

Unlike Mr. Fob I do know several who are like you in terms of Church participation.

Evan Stephens is perhaps the best known historic figure who seems to have followed a similar path.

Abelard Enigma said...

You are not the only person I know of in in your particular situation; you are merely the only one I know of in the LDS church. The catholic church teachings on homosexuality are very similar to that of the LDS church; yet, I know of catholics who hold tight to their faith even while living in, or seeking, a gay relationship. I know of others who are in similar situations in other churches as well, such as baptists.

But, within the LDS church, I do know of others who are living lives contrary to what the church teaches yet are trying to maintain activity in the church - as much as their current situation allows.

We had an elderly sister in our ward pass away recently. She was a convert of just a few years. She smoked her entire life and was never able to give it up entirely. Consequently, although she was a faithful member, she was never allowed to go to the Temple before she died. At her funeral, our bishop told us what a good and wonderful person she was and how much the rest of us could learn from her. He taught us that, although she had certain challenges in her life, God knows what was in her heart and would judge her accordingly.

Traditionally, gays are thought of as atheists or agnostics. Can we really blame them since most religions teach that god hates gays and that they are all going straight to hell. But, there is a small, but growing, population in the gay community who are rejecting those traditional teachings and saying "God loves me as I am." Unfortunately, these people are rejected, not only by mainstream christianity, but by the queer community as well. But, they hold tight to their faith; and, as their numbers grow, so does their level of acceptance.

So, you are right, there are few who have chosen the path you have chosen. In many ways, you are a modern pioneer. But, I believe your numbers are growing - and that is a good thing!

MoHoHawaii said...

John, you are the only person I know in your situation.

I admire what you are doing, and I wish more people had the same level of courage and integrity as you. It would be great if your example started a movement. I don't think it's going to happen, though, for all the reasons you mention.

Not all of us who no longer participate in the church are angry. (You have helped me in my own journey to forgive the church for its unkindness toward me in the past.) Anger is a natural stage, but it does go away after a while, or at least I felt that.

You have my affection and respect. I wish I had more answers than I do.

Bored in Vernal said...

John, I think you are truly unique and marvelous. You are a pioneer in the Church for those who wish to maintain their LDS testimonies as well as come to terms with who they are as sexual beings. And you are honest about the pain of it all but you have more joy than pain. It is an amazing thing.

I am interested to see if others will follow this path in the years to come. I find it hard to believe that you are the only one who can successfully navigate this potential minefield.

draco said...

Will anyone believe me if I claim the middle ground between your middle ground and the left extreme? ;)

I think the LDS Church is wonderful, but I don't think it is wonderful for everyone. I am in awe that you have broken the spell of disenchantment and have found a peaceful middle ground.

J G-W said...

Mr. Fob - I don't so much feel lonely. I have lots of friends! Just not so many friends who relate easily to the particular path I've chosen in life. Sometimes that's easier than others.

The other day, for instance, I was discussing my blog with my foster son. I said something along the lines of, "A lot of people seem to think it's impossible to be both gay and Mormon."

Without batting an eye, he said, "Well, it pretty much is, isn't it?"


I would have thought from living with me for the last month and half, he'd have a little different insight into this.

J G-W said...

Beck - E-hug back! I've always felt a full part of your fellowship! You were one of the first to really make me feel welcome in the Moho blogging community.

Betty! Thanks and e-hugs to you too! I'm glad you read my blog, and don't think I'm too weird.

Ron - I hope the others in my category you know of aren't all in Mike Quinn's book on Same-Sex Dynamics (and dead)! :)

Abe - I've been aware of folks in an analogous situation to mine in other faiths for a long time. Why is being LDS different? I guess that's one question I meant to put out there for discussion with this post.

Mohohawaii - Thanks, I appreciate your kind words, and am also glad some of the things I've written have helped you to reevaluate your own anger at the Church. For me the anger was resolved by my conversion (or re-conversion, I guess). Not everyone who leaves the Church is necessarily angry at it, though I've noticed a predominance of, how shall we put it, strong feelings, among ex-Mormons. We don't tend to be neutral about the Church. We are often either hot or cold. Why is that?

BIV - I'm interested too! Thanks!

Draco - You're right... We're all sort of on a continuum. I take it you fall into the category Mr. Fob mentioned, of someone who believes/has a testimony but is not currently active?

I'm curious to hear more about what that means to you...

draco said...

Well not quite- I think that if the church makes you happy and that if you believe in it wholeheartedly, then it's a great choice. But for me the church is no longer a live option- that is to say that it doesn't make me happy and I can't believe in it wholeheartedly, though I am very grateful for how it has influenced my life. But I can't stop being a spiritual person and a Christian either. That's the short version- the details are on my blog in posts from earlier this month.

Holly said...

Remarkable post. I especially appreciate your comments on ego, and the difference between validation "from that external climbing of the priesthood ladder and from our place in the hierarchy" vs. validation "from service to others, regardless of rank."

I applaud and admire your efforts to find what you call the "middle path." Though you do know, right, that the religious tradition known for over 2000 years as the "middle path" is Buddhism, right?

J G-W said...

Holly - Thanks for your kind words.

I was aware that Buddhists use the phrase "the middle path" to describe their way of moving through the world. A while ago (here), I actually quoted the great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, and drew some parallels between what he had to say about "Right Thought, Right Speech and Right Action" and the teachings of King Benjamin, who reminds us to "watch ourselves, and our thoughts, and our words, and our deeds." I think Buddhists have much to teach the rest of us -- especially about listening.

Original Mohomie said...

Thanks for your thoughts. It's refreshing to hear thoughtful expressions about this "middle ground".

As indicated by my blog posts, some of these ideas have been on my mind a lot lately.

I've never really felt "angry" at the church in the way many do. I've thought about the idea of going to church without being in full fellowship. It has taken some adjustment to shift from being the "go-to" man in my wards to the face in the back, but I've refused to let ego, as you put it, bear heavily on my decisions.

I just can't, yet, imagine having a burning testimony of the "restored gospel" and NOT sacrificing my dissident beliefs and practices, even if church policies were to later change, because isn't it worth it if it's true? It has felt that way for me in the past, when I've been more sure of my reason for sacrificing. And sometimes I just shrugged and said, "not sure if it did any good, but at least I know my motivations are pure".

I realize sacrificing the company of your beloved companion is a far different issue than not listening to my favorite singer's music during my mission, though.

D&C 101:4-5 says, "Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son. For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified."

How much am I willing to lay on the altar, if the restored gospel is true? How much will I refuse and withhold (or deny) when the Lord's servants ask it of me? Or does it matter, if I don't feel the Lord, himself, has asked it of me?

Abraham's hand was stayed, yet mine surely would not be when letting go of a beloved companion. ...or could it be? How can I know until I am willing to give that up?

Maybe it's the jump between being aware that the Lord's servants are asking me to give up companionship in this life (or find it with a woman), and the confidence that the Lord, himself, is truly asking it of me.

It's hard to believe the gospel leaves room for ignorance of "certain" counsel. This is not perfectionism but a collective understanding of principles laid out in scripture about least degree of allowance and prophets never leading us astray and sacrificing all things for the kingdom. I understand efforts to obey may have brought depression and hopelessness at some time. But that only makes sense to me, if I subscribe to the notion that the Doctrine and Covenants and conference talks are inspired, if I look at it and say, "I may have been obeying, but my heart was in a different place and not in-line how it needed to be, so of course I was depressed because my eye wasn't quite single, even if my behavior was compliant. But I'll try again, because a lot has changed, and maybe this time will be different." We certainly seem willing to do so in relationships with other people when our hearts and groins are aflame, so why not with counsel we don't understand, right? Or maybe, "Yes, I am depressed. Yes, I feel a void. Yes, I hate surveying the dreariness of the rest of my life facing the probability that I never again will know the tender embrace of a romantic partner. But 10 years down the line, or 20, when my heart has had time to heal and strengthen and find peace in the Lord, when I have learned to develop a network of intimate friendships and love of the Lord, when I am finally accustomed to the purifying fire and the incredible strength that has come from faithful (not blind) obedience and painful sacrifice, THEN I will realize that my happiness is deeper and more abiding than any human relationship can provide." Maybe. But I'd probably have to have more confidence and "faith" than I currently have to be ready to say that again.

I understand the middle ground on a temporary level, but regarding staying in the church, there has to be some awareness that if not today, then one day, another step will be required, whatever that step may be. Can I pick one aspect of my life and unyieldingly insist that it is my exemption card? Maybe I can instead say, "I realize the church leaders have counseled me to leave this, and I will keep that in mind, but for now, until the Lord himself touches my heart with that counsel, I have other things to work on. I have other things to do. And maybe, someday, when I am ready, I'll give that counsel another try and give it a chance to bless my life." Not in a token way. Not by way of dismissal or indefinite procrastination. But by way of humble acceptance that perhaps my ways are not the Lord's, and that he will show me how to integrate this counsel into my life when I am ready to take another step to demonstrate my willingness to humbly lay all things on the altar of his love.

...if you believe in God and you believe that's how he works. But maybe, when I read the scriptures and the teachings of modern prophets, and I expound on them as I have here, I'm unwittingly doing my own fair amount of interpretation, too. Maybe I don't fully understand. I'm sure I don't.

J G-W said...

OMoho - Thanks for this very thoughtful post.

I think you've beautifully outlined some of the dilemmas faced by same-sex attracted/oriented individuals in the Church. And maybe you have hit on the central reason why we tend to take an either/or position, rather than trying something like a "half-measure".

I think, however, the Abrahamic analogy is problematic on a number of counts. First, consider that the nature of the test was to see if Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son. The actual sacrifice of his son might have been something like an abomination. In other words, the message seems to be that, yes, our relationship with God is more important than and should take precedence over any other relationship in the world, but that does not mean that other relationships are not important -- central even -- to working out our salvation.

It is also an odd analogy in relation to same-sex relationships, since no one in the Church would regard the relationship between a father and a son as anything but one of the most sacred bonds there is. Most Church members might not put same-sex relationships on the same level with that.

Finally, another common LDS interpretation of the Abraham/Isaac story is that on very special occasions the Lord may command us to disobey seemingly fundamental commandments (in this case, "Thou Shalt Not Kill"). We read the Abraham story alongside the story of Nephi and Laban, as a message to us about the primacy of obeying the Spirit, even when to do so goes against some seemingly fundamental commandment.

Which tends to take me away from trying to use scriptural analogies to figure out what I am supposed to do in my very own real-life, embodied, unique, one-of-a-kind situation. I am not Abraham. I am not Nephi. I am not my father Donald or my grandfather Jay or my great-grandfather John. I am me, having to listen to the Spirit here and now in relation to these very unique problems that I face.

Maybe I've just answered my own question...

Mr. Fob said...

I've always been bothered by the Abraham analogy and to some extent by the Abraham story in and of itself. So I rewrote the story and now I feel much better about it. :)

Original Mohomie said...

Mr. Fob, the Abraham story has, at different points in my life, been inspiring, beautifully illustrative, and deeply troublesome and even loathesome. You're not alone in your discomfort. The story seems, to me, to easily foster the kind of obedience that gets infidels blown up by bomb-laden vehicles. Whether or not the Lord "stayed his hand" or whether it was murder or "sacrifice", it often just doesn't sit well with me anymore. I understand that Satan has a perverted interpretation to promulgate for every truth, but...OK, maybe this is a discussion for another time. :-)

J G-W, thanks for your added thoughts. I agree it's not a good parallel on many levels, but I mainly intended it on the level that despite what we may tell ourselves "in our hearts", perhaps we can't find out how willing we truly are to sacrifice what matters dearly to us (including beautiful and meaningful relationships) until we act, giving the Lord the opportunity to clarify what is to come of it. But the application of this is deeply personal, as I think you stated, and it's thankfully not my job to insist when and where and how anyone is to sacrifice for what I perceive to be the Lord's will for them.

Your thoughts certainly give one pause.

J G-W said...

OMoho - I've certainly wrestled with this. At one point in this journey, I essentially laid it all before the Lord and said I would give up my relationship if that was what he desired... It was made quite clear to me that that was not what he desired. (I've written about this elsewhere.)

You know, reflecting on this, I think I would find it far easier to give myself up, to sacrifice myself, than to sacrifice someone else. What do I care for my own happiness, especially if it is at someone else's expense? But to destroy someone I love...