Friday, December 31, 2010


Tomorrow, I'm attending the baptism of my friend Mary. New Year, new beginning. It seems the perfect time for a baptism.

Mary called me earlier this week to tell me the news. This is a big step for her, not one she takes lightly. She's been investigating the Church for many years, and a couple of years ago she almost got baptized but then called it all off at the very last minute -- to much embarrassment, and much to the chagrin of the elders and others intimately involved. She was introduced to me by a friend of mine who happens to be an atheist. Candy had told Mary about my wrestles with faith, and my journey, and Mary decided she needed to talk with me before she made any final decisions either to join or not to join the Church. So over the last couple of years, Candy, Mary and I have met periodically for lunch and heartfelt conversation. And in that time, Mary and I have become very close.

When Mary called to tell me about her baptism, we wept together on the phone. Mary told me she had been asked to make suggestions as to who she would like to have speak at her baptism, and she wanted me to speak about the Holy Ghost. I told her I felt so incredibly honored that she would want me to do that, but I was certain I could not be allowed to speak at an LDS baptismal service. And that was when the weeping started. She told me that the reason she's getting baptized is because of my faith and testimony. And she couldn't understand why I wouldn't be allowed to speak at her baptism. And I told her what I've told her before: Everything will work out in the end for the best and highest good of each and all of us if we just move forward in faith. And my presence at her baptism will have to be enough of a witness of what I know about faith and love and about the Holy Spirit.

I called my friend Candy and told her Mary was getting baptized, and Candy agreed that we both needed to be there to support her. Candy said something about the extraordinariness of a situation that might prompt her to walk through the doors of a Mormon church in order to attend a baptismal service. And she also, to my delight, volunteered that she would repeat the performance again some day when I am finally able to be baptized too. Now that is a testimony to the depth of the love of my friend Candy, that, not really sharing any of my faith, she understands me so completely, and is able to share my deepest hope with me. So Mary's rooting section on New Year's Day will include an excommunicated gay Mormon and a Unitarian atheist, united in our desire for Mary's happiness, and in our hope for her baptism to be both a new beginning and a deepening of faith.

I've been reading a book lately about the history of unbelief in America (an excellent book, by the way). It seems there are also (synchronicity!) a crop of blog posts by Beck and Kiley and Andrew about the personal conundrums caused by belief and doubt; or by a desire to believe in the face of doubt. I think my friend Mary has a profound faith, what Mormons call a testimony, but she's also been paralyzed for many years by different kinds of doubt.

An irony of wrestling with doubt is that in the midst of such wrestling we often feel guilty, as if it is wrong for us to doubt, when in fact doubt registers what I consider one of the highest forms of integrity. A person wavers in doubt because of a desire to make the right choice, and because he or she is honest enough admit that he or she doesn't know the right way to go. Doubt is not a comfortable place to be. When in doubt, we long for the certainty that will enable us to move forward with the courage (and presumably happiness) of our convictions. We have to wrestle with uncomfortable emotions, with an awareness of personal weakness, with conflicting desires. Doubt is always as much a matter of the heart as it is of the head! Even when we don't recognize the heart's role in doubt... We wonder if the "right" thing to do is to stick with a course of action that our head tells us can't be right, but our heart tells us ought to be right. Or is the "right" course to do what reason dictates, even when it "feels" icky?

One thing I can say is woe to the person who sells out in one way or the other. By that I mean the person who consciously professes belief just to win applause or get some other tangible reward. That kind of choice will eat at your soul until you don't have the power to believe in anything any more.

A person of integrity should doubt. But there, of course, also comes a moment when a person of integrity must choose. That isn't to say that we don't sometimes have to revisit choices; swallow hard and admit we were wrong; repent! My life has, for good or ill, been shaped by those kinds of choices. I am only human. But if we don't choose, if we refuse to move forward and commit for fear of later having to admit we were wrong, we miss out on the greatest gifts and the greatest ultimate happiness life has to offer.

Mary asked me how many baptisms I have attended in my life. I told her I wasn't sure, but probably around a dozen or so. I told her that three of those were baptisms I had performed.

"What was that like?" she asked.

"Terrifying," I told her.

"Really?" she asked in surprise. "Why?"

"Because I recognized the enormity, the incredible importance of what I was doing. And because I wasn't always sure I was worthy."

"Oh," she said, in a voice that told me she now understood perfectly.

I feel something like this now, for Mary. Of course Mary's decision to be baptized is Mary's decision. It is her choice. But she says that her baptism would not be possible without my faith and my testimony. My life has touched hers in some meaningful way that has helped her come to terms with doubt that till now had barred her way, like some angel or demon at the foot of Jacob's ladder. You don't give a gift like that to someone else without giving some part of yourself. Without owing some eternal part of yourself.

In thinking about it, I was reminded of what Elijah witnessed, when
the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. (1 Kings 19: 11-12)
So there are moments when I feel incredibly broken, like the rocks must have felt flying off the mountain, like nothing can be right with me. And there are times when I wonder if everything I believe in isn't, like the mountain in the earthquake, crashing down around me and proving me just another fool. But after the wind and the earthquake and the fire, the still small voice remains constant. It speaks of love, and keeps me grounded.

My greatest privilege in life has been to bear witness of that voice, and to see it bear fruit in love.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Those Who Professed to Belong to the Church of God

Lately I've been reading George Marsden's biography of Jonathan Edwards. (Marsden, by the way, is at his best in this work. Nuanced, relevant, and insightful! He splendidly shows how Edwards is still relevant today, how his theology is still a force to be reckoned with... An amazing piece of work I would highly recommend to anyone interested in American religion.)

One of the defining struggles for Jonathan Edwards was the problem of distinguishing between what he called the "visible Church" and the "invisible Church." This was a concept that became very important early in the Reformation -- it was something that both Martin Luther and John Calvin had to reckon with in their own theological work.

The concept of an "invisible" vs. "visible" church becomes necessary the moment you define the church in terms of a true, living faith and relationship with God. The problem stems from the fact that a person may profess faith outwardly, but inwardly their heart may not truly be aligned with God. A person may appear outwardly in every respect to be faithful both in word and deed, but it is difficult (if not impossible) to know whether that person is putting on a show of faithfulness in order to win the adulation of others. This poses an ecclesiastical problem if you belong to a church that insists its membership rolls should more or less only include true believers. Because it then sets for ecclesiastical leaders the more or less impossible task of reading what is truly in the hearts of his or her parishioners.

Edwards pointed out that we can look for "signs" of true, inward faith in people's outward behavior. But ultimately we cannot know for sure. We must acknowledge that, at least to some extent, the "visible" (earthly) church will not correspond perfectly with the "invisible" (true) church. Some individuals who should be included may be excluded from the church. While other individuals who should be excluded may be included in the church. Edwards believed this was the true meaning of the "wheat and the tares" parable. Only God knows the true state of individuals' hearts, and only God will ultimately be able to sort things out when Christ comes again and brings our present age to an end. Still, Edwards insisted that the church needs to try to discern, and needs to try -- as much as is humanly possible -- to sort the wheat from the tares.

The Book of Mormon seems to make reference to this important principle in passages I've read recently in Helaman. The principle of a universal, invisible Church seems to be established in Helaman 3: 28-29:
Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God....
Here, access to the Kingdom of Heaven is presented purely as an act of will, an act of desire. It is presented as a movement of the heart. "All... who will believe"; "whosoever will."

A few short verses later, this true church is contrasted with the church as it exists in the world. Verse 33:
And in the fifty and first year of the reign of the judges there was peace also, save it were the pride which began to enter into the church—not into the church of God, but into the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church of God—
This verse uses the word "church" in two different senses. The first use of the word "church" is when the author indicates that "pride... began to enter into the church." So here he is speaking of the visible institution, with earthly membership rolls. But as quickly as he states that pride has entered "the church," he clarifies. "Not into the church of God, but into the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church of God." So here is as clear a statement as you can find almost anywhere in scripture that individuals who suffer pride to grow in their hearts are not actually members of God's true church. They may be on the membership rolls of "the church" but they are not members of, what this author calls "the church of God." They may "profess" to be members, but they are not in truth, in the only sense that really matters in the eternities.

Now, this notion disturbs (and I think should disturb!) complacent views of the church and what church membership means. Often it disturbs us, though, for the wrong reasons. A wrong reason for it to disturb us is that it deprives us of nice easy categories into which we can simplistically place everyone and everything in the world. In a nice, tidy, complacent (arrogant) world, we belong to the One True Church, and our membership nicely entitles us to a front row seat in the Kingdom of Heaven. And everyone who is not with us is against us, so we're justified in treating them somewhat less than. And to be reminded that things don't actually work that way, that some people we might think of as damned are actually saved, and some that we might think of as saved are actually damned, well that messes things up and makes us very unhappy.

But a right reason for this to disturb us would be if it does the opposite. If it makes us just a bit insecure in our assumptions about our belonging in the Kingdom of Heaven. If it makes us realize that our church membership can't save us, if our hearts are improperly aligned.

This is just where Jonathan Edwards went with this insight. Church leaders, he insisted, must attempt to align the outward, visible church with the inward, invisible (true) church, but they will fail. They do so out of a responsibility to the souls of those they watch over. But their efforts are secondary to the efforts and responsibility of the individual believer. It is the individual believer, Edwards insisted, who must primarily ever be on the look-out for "signs" of true belief within their own heart and soul. It is ultimately our responsibility to measure our desires in the balance of Heaven-ordained virtue.

For Edwards, this Heaven-ordained virtue was organized in its totality around the principle of divine love. God's infinite, eternal, perfect love for all of creation, and for all his children is the founding principle of the cosmos. A true love for God will manifest itself in a selfless love for everyone and everything that God loves. And it is our task to measure ourselves against and align ourselves with that kind of love.

Whosoever will, may.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

She Will Love It

OK, this is Göran being the office Christmas diva.

Everyone who knows Göran knows that he is the hardest person in the world to buy presents for. Every year, for the last four Christmases, Glen has come to me with desperation in his voice. "What do I get for Göran?" he sighs.

I reply, "I don't know, kiddo. You're on your own. Be creative. Good luck! I know you can do it!" I give him a few Zen-like clues, and then I send him on his way.

This year, our foreign exchange student went Christmas-gift shopping with me. He looked at me with a quizzical expression, "What should I get for Göran? For you it's easy. But for him it's hard."

Tell me about it!

Nothing ordinary will do. A present for Göran has to be exotic, dazzling, and totally unique. And it has to speak to him in a certain way. He has very particular tastes. So searching for a Christmas present for him is something like a mythic quest. I usually end up devoting one entire shopping trip just to him. Once I've found his gift, I can then go on another shopping trip to get gifts for everyone else.

This year, as always, I started out with no idea where even to begin. I just sort of wandered around the mall, waiting till some form of inspiration hit. Finally I had an idea -- not an inspiration yet, just an idea. So I poked my head into one particularly promising little boutique and started looking around. A clerk came to my assistance, and I described something very particular. She pointed me to a certain display cabinet, and then I saw it. It was perfect!

It wasn't the totality of the gift. I knew that in order to make this gift right, my perfect find would have to be accompanied by a few other little items. That's where the inspiration came in. Presentation, artistry, and a little bit of sweat would make it the perfect gift. As I described my plans to the clerk, she sighed romantically. "Oh, she'll just love it," she sighed.

Whenever this happens, it always gives me pause. First of all, do I really come across as straight? I mean, really, she wouldn't just assume that I'm with a man? I guess not.

So then I have to decide, do I just let it slide, or do I educate? In this case, I was leaning toward "educate." So when she said, "She'll just love it," I matter-of-factly corrected her: "He'll love it."

"Oh!" she said, a bit nervously, "Him!" She pointed me toward some accessories that she thought were a bit more masculine -- in masculine colors. Knowing Göran, I promptly ignored her advice and headed straight toward the dazzling, shiny, exotically colorful accessories.

This particular Christmas gift, I realized, would require a special box. So earlier today, I went in search of and finally found an appropriate vessel. The person helping me said, "Oh, that's a beautiful gift item."

"Oh, that's not the gift," I explained, "That's to put the gift in." I described what I had gotten. "Oh, she will love it," the clerk smiled warmly.

I just smiled inwardly.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Should Gay Men and Lesbians Be Abstinent Before Marriage?

I've blogged elsewhere about the principles of chastity, and why I think they are important regardless of sexual orientation. I have spoken and can speak first hand about the ways I've experienced casual attitudes toward sex in the gay community A) making a life-long marital-type commitment more difficult to achieve, and B) generally working in both subtle and unsubtle ways to undermine such a commitment once you make it. I also believe that a life-long marital-type commitment is highly desirable, though it is not always easy to achieve. I believe it offers the greatest potential for happiness within a relationship. But more important than that, I believe it offers us the greatest opportunity to grow into our full spiritual stature -- precisely because of the challenges and difficulties involved in making this kind of relationship work.

I think principles of chastity have the greatest likelihood of working well if we commit to them not out of superstition or legalism, but because we understand the stakes and costs involved in building a committed relationship, and we are willing to make the investment. I believe that our willingness to be abstinent before a relationship does help us to establish habits, norms and discipline that will strengthen our ability to be sexually faithful within a relationship. More importantly, "where our treasure is, there will our heart be also." When we stay abstinent before a relationship and faithful within a relationship, we are essentially making a powerful statement -- both within our own mind and heart, as well as to our partner -- about how we value that relationship, and how we value sex within that relationship. Sex, in other words, becomes special because we are willing to treat it as special. And relationships become special because we are willing to be disciplined in our efforts to cultivate and nurture our relationships in this way.

Chastity is obviously not the only thing we need in order to cultivate a happy relationship. Other values such as communication and a willingness to make sacrifices are essential to make a relationship work. Obviously, chastity isn't even the only thing we need in order to successfully negotiate the sexual aspects of a relationship. In order for sex to be satisfying and mutually relationship-enhancing, we also need to develop traits such as compassion, the ability both to enjoy and to give pleasure, and we need to be able to communicate about sex. (Chastity is good for a relationship but prudishness is bad.) And we also need to have a realistic understanding of the limits as well as the potential of sex. (Sex won't fix conflicts in other areas of the relationship, for instance!) I won't comment a lot on the issue of sexual compatibility (i.e., entering into a relationship with someone with whom you feel a strong mutual attraction) other than to say I think it is very important. Chastity alone does not equal marital happiness. But it is a powerful contributor, and we can learn lessons from cultivating chastity that will help us make a relationship successful in other areas.

Not being sexually abstinent before marriage doesn't mean a committed relationship cannot succeed or even become extraordinarily committed and loving! I know that because, as I have described elsewhere, I certainly was not abstinent before entering into my relationship with my husband. A relationship is nothing if it is not capable of growing, and if it is not flexible. In another post, I used a "dance" metaphor to describe how a relationship works. What makes a relationship succeed or fail has as much to do with one partner's reactions to the moves of the other partner (and vice versa) as it has to do with the specific dance moves. So I feel I ought to temper my comments by stressing that there's no hard, fast formula for success in a relationship.

At the same time, I want to say that gay community social norms encouraging promiscuity and my own earlier unwillingness to commit to principles of chastity, I eventually realized, created problems and issues in my relationship with my husband that needed to be worked through in order for our relationship to become more joyful, loving and fulfilling. I feel there is a lot of damage that was done by some of these attitudes that has had to be repaired. If I had things to do over again, I would do them differently. And it would be my hope that, as future generations of gay men and lesbians begin to establish and build new relationships, they can benefit from the mistakes I and others of my generation have made.

A few members of the Moho Facebook community have started a Facebook group called "Gays Who Favor Premarital Abstinence." This seems to me like a great place for us to explore the issues and challenges related to gay and lesbian relationships in our culture. I see the creation of a group like this as a hopeful sign that we are beginning to transcend the homophobia that has disabled previous generations.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sex and Shame

A couple of weeks ago, I met Jonathan Langford for lunch. He lives not too far away; close enough that a drive into the Twin Cities every once in a while is not too difficult. We had the kind of conversation I live for, where we each shared some of the more significant parts of our respective life journeys, and reflected on faith and day-to-day challenges. We're about the same age too, and with that late forties-something age comes a certain groundedness. We're both sort of past the point where either of us feels we need to prove anything and where most of the loops life throws you for are no longer shocking (if they still don't necessarily get easier). And somehow that deepens the depth of any kind of conversation you can have with somebody. We of course did discuss his book, No Going Back. It entered naturally into the flow of our conversation, because we were discussing faith and life, and of course a novel like that draws on real-life faith and life lessons.

Toward the end of our conversation, Jonathan told me about an incredible discussion he'd read on Feminist Mormon Housewives about "healthy chastity." This particular discussion, not-surprisingly, ended up being about healthy sexuality. And while it's geared toward the challenges girls and women face in a sexist, exploitative culture, it's of direct relevance to men too. And as a gay man in a committed (going on 19-year-long) relationship with a man, I found it incredibly personally relevant. So to those of you who haven't already seen it, regardless of whether you are gay or straight, male or female, it's definitely worth a read.

I had already, for some time, been thinking of posting on the problem of shame and sex, and how shame -- and particularly religiously motivated guilt and shame -- really undermines the goal of chastity, which I would really define here as respect for appropriate sexual boundaries or, more broadly, as life- and relationship-enhancing sexuality. I would further here rather broadly define sexuality not just as sex or sex-acts per se, but also as including self-image, body-image, attitudes toward the giving and receiving of pleasure, and the role that giving and receiving sexual pleasure plays in a broad range of familial and social relationships. So, in my mind, "sexuality" is as much about understanding how and why we say "no" to sex in a host of situations, as it is about understanding and fully appreciating those situations where we can and do appropriately say "yes."

I think any decent theological discussion about chastity has to begin with an acknowledgment of the ways sexuality is abused and exploited in our culture for purposes that can only be described as corrupt. There are two forms of corrupt exploitation of sexuality in our culture. The first broad type of corruption is the "sex sells" proposition. This includes using sex to sell cars or motorcycles or clothes or toothpaste or chewing gum, etc. And it includes ranking bodies (and theoretically the people who inhabit those bodies) in terms of physical beauty or sex-appeal, or whatever, and encourages us to judge ourselves based on the extent to which our bodies approximate some ideal. And it also includes ranking people based on how easily or how often they have sex, etc. And it includes a permissive sort of anything-goes, if-it-feels-good-do-it kind of mentality. And it includes an attitude of "what I do in privacy does not matter." And I think you cannot see the lie in that if you fail to understand how sexuality is connected to a broad range of relationships and social commitments. This first form of corruption is one that folks more easily recognize if they come from a conservative religious culture.

The second form of corruption, however, is often lost on folks from a more religious perspective, and that is the "sex as power" proposition. Whereas the first form of corruption exploits lust for the sake of greed, the second form of corruption exploits shame for the sake of ego. So the more blatant manifestations of this form of corruption include a parent or religious leader or a boss or a therapist or teacher or counselor sexually abusing vulnerable charges or subordinates or clients. Or more nefarious forms of this corruption may not involve actual acts of sexual abuse, but could involve, say, a religious leader using the confidential setting of, say, a worthiness interview, to ask inappropriate questions about a person's sex life. It includes every impulse to control, or compel, or humiliate another human being. It includes an attitude that sex is bad and dirty, and that sexual desire and sexual thoughts make us bad and dirty people. Or it treats sex as something that should be minimized or avoided as much as possible, or used only for procreation (because it's so bad that we should only use it when we really, really have to to propagate the race). And so it ranks people based on their supposed ability to resist the allure of sex, so, for example, a girl (or sometimes a boy, but really, in our culture almost always a girl) who has had sex before marriage is broken, damaged, tainted, and can never have her precious chastity back. Or a gay person who is celibate is a much, much better person than a gay person who is in a relationship. And I think you cannot see the lie in these propositions if you fail to understand how sexuality is connected to a broad range of relationships and social commitments, and how love and relationships make us stronger, how they expand our capacity for good and for service and for sacrifice and community and all the things that really make us human.

Both forms of corruption partake of the lie that sexuality is reducible to an act; that it's disconnected from some larger physical/emotional/spiritual/relational whole. Both, ironically, partake of the lie that sexual morality is defined legalistically. The first form of corruption might denounce sexual laws and sexual rules as overly confining; and the second form of corruption might see laws and sexual rules as all-encompassing (i.e., man is made for the Sabbath!). But both can't seem to get past a legalistic view of sex and of persons as defined by sex acts rather than the meanings invested in sex acts or the relationships within which sexuality forms part of an intricate web of meaning, intimacy and love. This is why the powers that be -- whether economic or religio-political -- seem to be invested in promoting these corrupt attitudes. Both forms of corruption seem to be related to each other as well in the sense that -- like Democrats and Republicans -- they present themselves as the only one of two viable attitudes. They both sell the lie that one must either accept that good sexuality is about "anything goes," or that good sexuality is about "following rules."

Both also -- significantly -- divest the individual of any autonomy or power to figure out how sexuality works for them, or to make moral judgments of their own, independent of some uncompromising external standard that is either promulgated through Calvin Klein ads or that was supposedly written in stone on Mt. Sinai (as interpreted, of course, by infallible religious leaders). Legalism essentially teaches me that I cannot make decisions on my own; that there simply are no choices because everything is black and white. And it instills fear and shame in me to the extent that I don't just shut up and do as I'm told.

I've found one way forward in the realization that shame is simply not a useful emotion in relation to sex. It simply doesn't help me in any way whatsoever. Shame in relation to sex seems independent of the morality or immorality of any particular sexual situation. For instance, as a young teenager, I experienced intense shame about the fact that -- obeying church leaders and avoiding masturbation -- I was having wet dreams literally every night or every other night. Every time I woke up from an erotic dream with moist undergarments, I felt like I was somehow to blame, as though there must be something terribly wrong with me because I ejaculate. Or shame can manifest as the sneaking suspicion that there must be something wrong with me because my partner and I are happy together and because we really enjoy sex.

The antidote, for me, has, interestingly enough, been a simple form of humility. It is simply to accept that this is me, this is how I am made. I am flesh and blood. I eat, I drink, I breathe, I defecate, I urinate, I bleed, I sweat. And yes, I get aroused and I ejaculate. This is all part and parcel of the human condition; of existing as a spiritual being having a physical experience. It is to realize that even if I could somehow purge myself of every sexual impulse or desire, it would not make me better than anyone else. That is the real temptation, the real sin: to think scaling some height of asceticism could somehow make me morally superior. But as Paul wrote, "Though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing." That appeal to some egotistical part of my nature is in fact much more offensive to God than the fact I enjoy the embrace of the man I love.

Gratitude is another antidote, which includes simply taking time to take a deep breath and take account of the wonder and beauty of the world around us. I express to God how thankful I am for this incredible opportunity to have this complex, rich experience with life and physicality, to live in a world where there are such challenges, such pain, such darkness, and such misunderstanding; that I have an opportunity to bring light and love and hope to such a place. I give thanks that this body gives me the opportunity to express love, through work, through nurture, and through physical affection. I embrace life, which is God's finest creation.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Lord Our God Did Visit Us

No, this isn't a Christmas quote, though it could be. My scripture reading lately has been in the book of Alma in the 50-something chapters, which means lots of description of military tactics and battles and war-time politics. Sometimes it feels like the 65 B.C. edition of the War Room with Wolf Blitzer. But as a follow-up to my last post, if the blow-by-blow account of General Moroni vs. King Amalickiah was considered worth including as part of the sacred record, it is because in the Book of Mormon witness, God does somehow intervene in our day-to-day lives, even at their most mundane or profane.

This war between the Nephites and Lamanites was as much a war of ideas as it was a physical war. In Moroni's epistle to Ammoron, he insists "I would tell you somewhat concerning the justice of God, and the sword of his almighty wrath, which doth hang over you except ye repent" (54: 6). And Ammoron replies in kind,
And as concerning that God whom ye say we have rejected, behold we know not such a being; neither do ye; but if it so be that there is such a being, we know not but that he hath made us as well as you. And if it be that there is a devil and a hell, behold will he not send you there to dwell with my brother whom ye have murdered, whom ye have hinted that he hath gone to such a place? But behold these things matter not. (54: 21-22)

Moroni comes across as a bit of a hothead in this exchange. His epistle, written for the purpose of negotiating an exchange of prisoners, ends by calling Ammoron "a child of hell." Not surprisingly, "Ammoron, when he had received this epistle, was angry." Not a shining example of diplomacy, to say the least. Ammoron nonetheless coolly agrees to the exchange of prisoners. But then Moroni gets angry and calls it off after all, on the grounds that Ammoron refused to admit in his letter that his war was an unjust one.

Whatever Moroni's shortcomings as a diplomat, Ammoron was of course wrong when he claimed that Moroni and his men had no knowledge of a being such as God. The story of Helaman and the "stripling warriors" is a favorite of LDS Sacrament Meeting talks, and probably the most commonly quoted verse from this story is the "we do not doubt, our mothers knew it" verse (Alma 56:48). But to me, the far more powerful testimonial in this story is the one offered in chapter 58, when Helaman describes an increasingly grim situation. He and his soldiers are holed up in the city of Manti surrounded by a superior and growing enemy force, and with no sign of reinforcements in sight. And it is in this seemingly desperate situation that he writes:
Therefore we did pour out our souls in prayer to God, that he would strengthen us and deliver us out of the hands of our enemies.... Yea, and it came to pass that the Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him (vs. 10-11)
The "we do not doubt, our mothers knew it" kind of faith is a believing or a relying on the faith of someone else -- in this case "mothers." You could take out "our mothers," and insert "our fathers," "our older siblings," "our best friends," "our priesthood leaders," "the prophet," etc., and it still doesn't change the basic structure of the faith being described here. But the "the Lord our God did visit us" kind of faith is something else entirely. The latter kind of faith came in a moment of fear and darkness, in the midst of a desperate situation, where those receiving this kind of faith had put their lives on the line for others. It is in this situation that the Lord chose to visit his people.

Helaman still describes this as a state of "faith" (qualified, of course, with the term "great"). What results from a visit by the Lord is still faith; it still requires us to trust in the Lord's assurances. It still demands effort on our part.

It still, also, of course, is a gift of God. The text says that the Lord, in "visiting" his people "did cause us that we should hope." So faith here -- as it is in all circumstances -- is sheer divine gift.

But this is not hearsay faith. This is not believing in something just because somebody else believes it. This is not just taking somebody else's word for it. It is putting to the test and learning for oneself. And in this case, the putting to the test involved a willingness to face death and experience extreme hardship for the sake of protecting loved ones. It can involve other kinds of tests as well, though I suspect that these tests most often will involve some kind of service, some giving of oneself for others. I think that is why, for instance, there were spiritual lessons I could not learn until I was willing to become a foster dad, and to begin to live a life where my main day-to-day concern was not just my own well being, but the well-being of somebody else who depended on me. I think it's our truthfulness to these kinds of relationships that opens our lives up most profoundly to the Spirit and to "visits from the Lord."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Does God Really Care Where I Lost My House Keys?

OK, everybody at some time or another has sat through a testimony meeting where someone shares the experience of having lost something small but important, like house keys or car keys or whatever. And then they prayed and asked God for help to find whatever it is they lost, and then sure enough, no sooner than they have finished their prayer, an idea pops into their head and they investigate, and, sure enough, they find the lost item. A miracle! God helped them find their keys!

Now, I've always regarded these stories with a bit of skepticism for a number of reasons. First of all, I've always imagined that in the range of things that the Almighty concerns himself about, finding a set of lost keys can't possibly rate very highly. I mean, my spouse gets peeved at me if, every time I lose something, I ask him, as if he's supposed to keep track of all my little junk. Wouldn't God similarly expect me to organize my personal affairs so that I can keep track of where my keys are?

Second, it presents the same theological problem that every "answered" prayer for some physical, material blessing does. Why would God help me find a pair of keys, but let some child die of an incurable disease?

OK, so I admit I'm a skeptic.

Yet, Saturday, Göran and I were out snowshoeing with a new foreign exchange student who arrived Thursday and will be staying with us until early June of next year. While goofing around and making a snow angel, our student lost his cell phone in the snow. He didn't become aware that he had lost it until about a half-hour or so later after we arrived back at the house.

I felt terrible for him, so I volunteered to run back to the spot where the snow-angel-making activity had occurred and search for the phone. I arrived at the spot, but there was no cell phone in sight. Snow was coming down thick and heavy. I searched everywhere. I even started brushing away snow and digging around in spots where the phone might likely have fallen, to no avail. And after wandering around and digging and searching for several minutes, I was on the verge of admitting defeat and heading back home to deliver the bad news.

But just before leaving, it occurred to me to pray and ask God for help with this.

I know, right?

I mean, even as I was uttering the prayer in my mind, I thought, this can't possibly work. But, wouldn't you know it, no sooner had I calmed my heart, taken a deep breath, and asked for help, than I noticed a little patch of snow that was slightly darker than the snow around it. Just an ever so slightly darker shade of blue. I went straight to the spot and dug. The cell phone was there, it had slid into the snow length-wise and was buried quite deep. Unlikely I ever would have found it just lightly brushing snow away. I had to dig for it. But it was right there, and in perfectly good working condition.

So now my dilemma. Was this just a coincidence? And was it wrong to be grateful for God's help, if this was just a coincidence? Would God just be annoyed by my prayers of thanksgiving for something so trivial? Is it possible that this "miracle" might actually even be a disservice to our young exchange student friend, on the grounds that my success won't teach him to be more careful with his stuff the next time?

I don't know. Truth is, though, I was very thankful. So I uttered a prayer of thanksgiving as I slipped it into the warmth and security of my pocket. And when I got back, Farzad was thankful too. Extremely thankful! He couldn't stop thanking me.

So I'm not sure what the lesson is of this. But if it is possible to make theological sense of something like this, I suppose it is that all things are in God's hands, and I am grateful for all things. And I know that the greatness or triviality of a blessing or a miracle is relative. To a kid who's five thousand miles from home, a cell phone and the capability to stay in touch with mom and dad can be a big deal. And I don't know why things work the way they do. It breaks my heart beyond words to think of children starving and dying, and prayers for them going unanswered. I can't say I understand those things. But I am grateful for the good!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Royal Wedding

The Dream

The dream began with me employed as a debt counselor. I had been hired by a wealthy landlord to counsel poor tenement dwellers about how they could manage their finances better, to help them pay the extremely high rents they owed. I witnessed this landlord and her bodyguard bullying a poor lesbian couple because of their inability to pay rent. When I realized what kind of a person the landlord was, I also realized that the problem was not that people living in the tenements didn't know how to manage their finances, it was that the rents were too high. I quit my job and started to help the renters to organize a union to demand fairer rent.

In the second part of my dream, as I was leaving a gathering of renters, I was approached by a handsome young man wearing a suit and tie. This man was trying to seduce me. He brought me to a public restroom in a park and told me he wanted to have sex with me. I found him very attractive, and his offer tempting. But despite his increasingly bold attempts to have his way with me, I resisted and told him I could not have sex with him because I had made a commitment to my partner Göran.

In the third part of my dream, after I had rejected the advances of this attractive young man, I was crossing a bridge. As I crossed the bridge, I looked at my hands. They looked dead, like the hands of a zombie. But then I realized that the deadness was just a shell. I peeled the shell off. Now my hands looked diaphanous, like the hands of a ghost. Once again, I realized that the ghostliness of my hands was just a shell. I peeled that shell off as well. Now I saw that I was wearing very delicate, lacy gloves, like the gloves that a bride might wear to her wedding. I had three sets of wedding gloves on.

Another attractive young man wearing a suit and tie approached me, and asked me to follow him. I did and he led me to a luxuriously appointed apartment in a beautiful building. He told me to undress, and pointed me to a shower where I was supposed to bath. As I undressed and removed the three sets of gloves, I saw a beautiful ring on my left hand. It was made of gold, and had an elaborate setting on it in the shape of a fleur-de-lis type crown. I learned that the ring was an engagement ring, and that I was to be married to the crown prince of the realm. In the shower, there was a bottle of oil that I bathed myself in, and then rinsed in the water.

A woman arrived, young, blond and attractive. I overheard her speaking to her servants while I was in the shower. She was a wealthy princess, and she was indignant that the crown prince was marrying me instead of her. I came out of the shower, and I felt bad. I was getting ready to give her my engagement ring, and I was going to tell her that she should marry the prince. I had no business taking her rightful place. But the crown prince himself then arrived. He told me I had no right to give the ring to the princess. It was his to give, and he had given it to me. I was to finish my shower, and then get dressed and prepare for the royal wedding.


The Interpretation

This dream was about loyalty. The first test of loyalty involved learning that my employer -- the one I thought I was supposed to be serving -- didn't actually deserve my loyalty, and that my loyalties needed to be redirected, and I needed to align myself with the poor, against the powerful who were exploiting them.

The second test involved learning about the depth of my personal commitment. It wasn't just about sexual fidelity (though it could certainly also be about that). In dreams, sex is rarely actually just about sex. In this case, the question was whether I could resist the allure of short-term satisfaction that would undermine the more fundamental, more important commitments in my life.

The crossing of the bridge, I think, symbolized the passage from the realm of mortality to the realm of eternity. The symbolism of the gloves was fascinating. The "dead" zombie gloves symbolize merely fleshly, material concerns, things of mortality or of this world. The "diaphanous" ghost gloves symbolize the realm of spirit. But interestingly, the spirit separated from body offers no "substance," no reality in and of itself either. Where we really begin to find the substance and beauty is the three sets of "wedding gloves" underneath. There are multiple layers of symbolism in the wedding gloves: the conjoining of body and spirit, but also our entry into the eternal realm, literally our wedding or union with God.

It occurred to me later that the gloves actually correspond to the Mormon conception of heaven. The dead zombie gloves correspond to the telestial realm -- to which are consigned those in this life who never manage to see beyond the purely physical realm enough to transcend lust and hate (liars, thieves, adulterers, murderers, etc.). The diaphanous ghost gloves correspond to the terrestrial realm -- the realm reserved for those who have some spiritual awareness, but who have insufficient depth of spiritual awareness to transcend legalism and successfully apply spiritual principles in a living way to the world we live in. The three-tiered wedding gloves correspond to the three-tiered celestial kingdom, where spirit and body, time and eternity are successfully united -- the dwelling place in God's presence of those who understand and are valiant in their loyalty to that understanding.

I find intriguing that the young man who attempts to seduce me is very similar to the young man who leads me to the crown prince's apartment. It suggests that my would-be seducer was not actually seducing me, but rather testing me to see if I was a worthy companion for his Lord.

The arrival of the indignant princess symbolized -- I think -- the problem that gender poses for gay Mormons in Mormon theology. The implication of the dream seems to be that faithfulness and loyalty to God matters more in any equation involving celestial marriage than does physical gender.

I'm not sure what was the significance of the fact that the oppressive landlord in the dream was a woman (with a male body guard). In the Book of Revelation, the oppressive economic and political systems of this world are also symbolized by a woman ("the whore of Babylon"). This certainly doesn't reflect how I see women in the real world. Of course in the real world, women are not the masters of global wealth and power. The lesbian couple in my dream were closer to my conscious perception of the actual social status that women occupy "in the world." The lesbian couple were standing up for the poor, and bore the brunt of the hostility directed by the powers that be toward anyone who challenges injustice. It was when I witnessed the way these women were being abused, that I made the realization in my dream of how I needed to realign my loyalties.

I suppose the significance of the gender of the landlord character (and the indignant princess) emphasize the world as "rival suitor." Certainly as a gay man, they would seem to symbolize the assertion made against me -- on the basis of my gender -- that I cannot be a candidate for exaltation because of the gender of the person I love and remain fiercely committed to.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Ninety and Nine (and the One)

I don't feel really comfortable sharing a lot of details about the trial of faith I've been experiencing over the past month or so. But I think I need to share the fact that there has been a trial of faith and it has been really painful and it has involved me questioning everything from the bottom up.

And oddly, just at the moment that I was going through this very personal struggle, a number of individuals who are close to me were experiencing trials of faith of their own. And they were turning to me for strength or answers. And I didn't feel there was a lot I could offer them. I could point them to God, and I could (and did!) pray for them. But it really was a virgins and oil and a waiting for the bridegroom kind of experience. I didn't have any oil to offer them for their lamps... I barely had enough for my own. I could only send them away in search of their own oil.

I've come through this, and to say I feel humbled is kind of an understatement. And some things have definitely shifted for me. And while I don't want to share many specific details of what exactly happened, I do want to try to share what it was like coming through this trial of faith, and how I found some resolution, and what I think I learned from it. And maybe if some of you have experienced some trials of your own, you can share with me what you've learned or what you know.

Part of this trial involved feeling really alone, and really in the dark. And the depth of that loneliness and darkness was more profound than anything I've experienced in the last five years. For most of the last five years, I've had this most blessed experience of the guiding, helping, comforting presence of the Holy Spirit. And that presence has lifted me up and kept me going in circumstances and situations I never would have imagined possible. And it's enabled me to be a source of encouragement and strength to others. When others came to me, I felt I always had something for them, like a bottomless basket of loaves and fishes. Because that presence of the Spirit in my life was like this endless supply of enthusiasm and love and optimism and faith, and I had for myself and for all my friends and family and for strangers too. But part of the most painful part of this trial is that I had nothing. I felt like I just wanted to stop answering the phone, stop answering emails. And I felt truly alone. No Spirit. Nothing. Just me, without a lot of answers or courage.

And the most difficult part of that was wondering what I had done to have been cut off like that. And the answer -- I discovered later -- was nothing. There was nothing wrong I had done. The Lord was testing me. I did what I was supposed to do during a test like this. I took what I knew, what I had learned, and I used my best lights and did the best I could with what I had. I kept struggling, and stayed true. And all the time I was doubting and wondering and asking questions. The biggest question was, "Did I just imagine all that? Did that really happen? Did the Holy Spirit really speak to me? Did the Lord really reveal himself to me? Or was that all in my head?"

There's a basic principle here, and I think it's the reason the Lord tried me and tested me in this way, specifically for me to learn this and understand it well and thoroughly. No faith or faithfulness is possible without the Lord's sustaining grace. Whatever we think we have, whatever righteousness we think we might accumulate, it's nothing without him, without his sustaining presence. Yes, we have to make efforts to do the right thing; the most important aspect of which is turning to him and asking him for help and acknowledging him as the source of all things and as our strength and help; we need to wrestle, we need to struggle, we need to choose the right. But none of that is sufficient without his all-sufficient grace.

Often the Lord prospers us and takes care of us and blesses us, and we aren't even aware of the source of the blessings. We think we've earned it or we were just lucky, or whatever. And the Lord has taught me that even when we are not aware of it, the source of all life and truth and spirit and all good things is the Lord, and if he ever fully withdrew his sustaining grace from Creation, from this incredible Universe all around us, it would all crumple and fold and vanish like so much tissue paper in a bonfire. I realized it's important for me to know that, to know what the source of my strength is.

This is a very humbling thing to know. And it is also humbling in the sense that I am aware that there's not necessarily anything we have done wrong if we don't feel the power and the certitude that comes from having a very real, very direct communion with the Spirit. The Lord may choose to withhold that from us in order to test us in certain ways or to help us learn certain things on our own.

So that brings me to the question of how things have shifted for me. Saturday morning, I knelt to pray, and it was like the windows were suddenly flung open wide and the sunlight came streaming in, and there were tears streaming down my cheeks, and I wept because the Lord finally gave me the comfort I had been without for so long, and reassured me, this had been a test, and I had passed. I recorded all the important, immediate, specific answers to the really painful, specific questions in my journal; they are there for me to remember and to know. To remind myself when reminding is needed. And I thought it would be business as usual again.

I went to Church yesterday, expecting something further, some kind of epilogue. But there was nothing. I felt nothing. It was the first time in five years that I've gone to my LDS ward and simply not felt the Spirit present there at all. And I was distinctly aware of the fact that one of my best friends in the ward was not there. And he's one of the ones I mentioned earlier in this post who has been going through some really painful struggles, through a really painful trial of faith of his own. He told me he couldn't take it any more; he couldn't take the Church any more. He couldn't take the sense of disconnect he has with the members, who don't treat him as a full equal; who treat him in ways that make him feel unequal and an outsider.

I texted him, and I said, "We need to meet." And he replied, "Why?" And I replied, "Because the last time we talked, you were in pain, and you are my brother." And I got no response to that text. And I didn't know what to do about that emptiness. But there was no Spirit for me in Church.

Later that afternoon, my husband and I went to a concert of the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir, a choir we sang in for 10 years. It was our singing in that choir that got us going to Church. I'd say that choir is the one place where Göran and I have both felt the Spirit in the same time and in the same place. I can't get him to go to Church with me. He just won't. The LDS Church's position on same-sex relationships is a stumbling block he just can't get over. But we went to the gospel choir's concert at Park Avenue United Methodist Church. It's the first choir event we've been to in something like seven years. The church was full to overflowing, packed to the brim, from the back of the balcony to the front row. And Göran and I were in the standing-room-only section. And members and leaders of the choir kept seeing us and they'd get all excited and jump up and down and give us hugs and tell us how much they missed us, and it felt incredible, like this most joyous reunion. And the Spirit was there in such abundance. The gospel choir was singing, and I was watching all these people, black and white and Asian and Hispanic, swaying and clapping and singing.

And I had this vision: this will be the Celestial Kingdom, right here. All the lost sheep, the ones who are out, far away from the ninety and nine, the ones we need to go out into the highways and byways and hedges to find. The ones that don't even want to be found any more because they've been too wounded by all the good righteous ninety and nine who are safe and cozy and satisfied.

Göran felt the Spirit there, like I did. Do you know how I could tell he did? Because of the way he talked about what had happened. He was using words like pain and hope. It was the most spiritual conversation he and I have had together in years, where we were actually speaking the same language at the same time. And he said he wanted to go back to the choir. That was the other clue. So I contacted one of the choir's assistant directors this morning to ask her if we could come and sing with them again. We need this. This is going to have to be Church for me and Göran for a while.

Not that I've lost my testimony of the LDS Church, or that I intend to stop attending. If anything, I've had a renewed testimony of that as well. But I've realized that Church is always only a kind of nexus, a resting place in-between the important saving work we have to do in this place of wonder and fear, good and evil that we call the world. It can never be an end in itself.

I want my friend to find saving faith. I'm not particularly invested in getting him to go back to the LDS Church right now; I honestly don't think that's the most important thing for him (though I would be so happy if he found the faith to be there, as I have). More important that he have a friend who is willing to stand by him as he faces whatever demons are tearing him apart right now. (And I know there are demons.)

And I realized this is my calling. It's to be involved in that work of knitting faith together from the bottom up if need be. To turn light into darkness; or to be a light to those in darkness, wherever they may be.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Today we're celebrating Göran's forty-sixth birthday in the city of his birth, Memphis, Tennessee. While driving across Memphis with Göran's Aunt Dottie, she mentioned that John Gaston Hospital, the hospital where Göran was born, was a "black hospital" at the time, reminding us that the America that Göran and I were born into was an America torn in half by segregation. Only a year before, I had been born in Provo, Utah, on the edge of a nearly all-white Mormon University campus, and was blessed by priesthood holders in a church that refused to ordain blacks. Who at that time would have predicted that a black child born in segregated Memphis and a white child born in Utah, in the bosom of one of the whitest churches in America, could some day pledge their lives to each other on the headwaters of the Mississippi?

This morning, as I was reflecting on what his life has meant to me -- how his love for me has transformed my life -- I also reflected on the battles fought and the sacrifices made, to make our life and our love possible. Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, black school children walking the gauntlet between rows of hateful, jeering white adults to attend school in Birmingham, Dr. King dying of gunshot wounds in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. But also: drag queens standing up and fighting at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, Harvey Milk running for public office in San Francisco, California. And always, ordinary people making quiet decisions to live their lives in harmony with a kind of love and a vision of justice that the powers that be and most of their contemporaries denied.

There were other, stranger contingencies that brought the stream of his life together with mine. My father's mission call in the late 1950s to Finland; my mother's conversion, and the correspondence that brought them together in the early sixties; my Finnish-American heritage which brought me back to Helsinki, Finland in 1986; so that when I decided to leave BYU and the Mormon Church after almost committing suicide that summer, there was a Midwest Finnish-American community connection that brought me first to Upper Michigan and then to Minneapolis. When Göran's mother decided to run away from Memphis with him and his younger sister, his father, his aunt, his grandmother and the rest of his family in Memphis were grief-stricken. He grew up in Iowa without knowing any of his family; and when he confronted his mother about their past, her refusal to answer his questions was a factor in his decision to leave Iowa, change his name, and follow his then-boyfriend to Minneapolis in 1987. Shortly after their arrival in the Flour City, he and his boyfriend broke up, but he stayed. In the early 1990s, Göran and I both used to go dancing at The Gay '90s, a popular gay bar in downtown Minneapolis, and one night he asked me to dance.

Life is strange and amazing and beautiful!

Monday, November 15, 2010


Bread has been called "the staff of life." In Finland, that staff is the traditional ruisleipä, or rye bread. To Finns, American white breads taste pasty and excessively sweet. My cousin Mika used to tease me by telling me that for bread Americans ate something more like pulla (Finnish sweet dessert bread). In Finland, the real bread is rye bread, and there's some at every meal -- breakfast, lunch and dinner. And when Finns leave their native land, ruisleipä is what they miss the most. You just can't seem to get it anywhere outside of Scandinavia.

Traditional Finnish rye bread is completely different from America rye bread -- much more soft, moist and savory. I couldn't get enough of it when we were over there, and I've been missing it terribly since our return to the States. After searching in vain for an ethnic bakery in the Twin Cities that might sell it, a friend of mine finally suggested I make it myself. The recipe is in Beatrice Ojakangas' The Finnish Cookbook, a tome that no self-respecting Finnish-American home (including mine) is without. So this past weekend, I began the process of learning to make for myself the Finnish staff of life.

It is a process, because Finnish rye bread is a sourdough bread. That means I can't just dump a bunch of ingredients into our bread machine and have a fresh loaf a few hours later. First I had to prepare a sourdough starter, which involves putting a flour-milk mixture in a warm place, and letting it sit for a couple of days. Once the sourdough starter is nice and ripe (you can tell it's ready when it's full of bubbles and starts to smell a certain way), then you can prepare the dough.

The rest of the dough consists basically of rye flour, salt, yeast and potato water -- nothing really too special. The secret ingredient is the sourdough. Without that, Finnish rye bread won't be Finnish rye bread. It simply won't have the savory flavor that Finns crave -- and that this Finnish American craves! But in order to do its work, the sourdough takes more time. You start the dough by mixing the sourdough starter into potato water, adding another cup of rye flour, and then letting that mixture sour for another day or two! Only then will you finally have a preparation that is ready for the additional flour, salt, and yeast that will complete the dough.

Once the souring process is finally done and the dough has been mixed, there's still several more hours of work to do... Letting the yeast rise, then punching it down, letting it rise again, then punching it down again. The repeated rising and kneading, rising and kneading, and rising again is what gives the bread the second quality that makes Finnish rye bread distinctive and delicious: it's softness.

I was describing the process to my friends Reuben and Melanie on the way home from Church yesterday, and they both laughed. "That's a lot of work to make some bread!" said Reuben. Yes, it is. But it's really good bread!

This has been more than an exercise in culinary nostalgia for me, though it's been fun to have my Finnish cousins cheering me on on Facebook! The thing that might sound a bit strange is that this has also been a profoundly spiritual exercise for me.

Of course, making this kind of bread has taught me the value of patience. No amount of will or desire (hunger for tangy, soft rye bread!) could change the fact that this kind of bread can only be made by waiting the requisite amount of time (3-4 days for this batch!) There's nothing I could do to make the fermentation process go any faster. Certainly, I could create the conditions for the fermentation process to happen (mix the ingredients, and then place them in a safe, warm place), but after that, the only thing to do was to allow nature to take over and wait. Were I to grow impatient and end the process too early, the result would be failure.

It's the same with us. The Lord mixes the ingredients and then puts them in a warm, safe place -- in our hearts. And sometimes there's nothing to do but to wait. To let those ingredients do what they do over time. It's the waiting process that permits important transformations to take place, that allows us to become what God intends for us to become. There's just no substitute for patience.

The recipe book I've been following told me that I would know the sourdough starter was ready by the "pleasantly sour odor." It is indeed hard to describe the happiness I felt when, at the end of the second day of waiting, I sniffed the starter and immediately recognized the scent. It smelled like sourdough bread! I was ecstatic. But I recognized something else about the scent. It was also the scent I've smelled on occasion just before dumping out the contents of a milk carton that's been sitting too long in our refrigerator. And then it struck me. Normally, if I smelled this smell, I would consider food to be rotten, bad, only worthy to be tossed into the trash or poured down the drain of the kitchen sink. Instead, now, I treasured that smell! I loved it! It made me extremely happy! And what made the difference in emotion? Certainly not the actual physical fermentation process. This food had transformed in exactly the same way as other food I had previously considered "bad." The difference in emotional response came from the realization that the fermentation process could have a purpose, that it could be used to produce bread with a unique and delicious savor that could not be produced any other way.

So much of my life has been spent bemoaning the fact that I am different, and wishing that I could be something other than what I am. Why, indeed, would God make me this way? Why would I be gay? Why couldn't I be attracted to women instead of men? And so much energy has gone into feeling I have somehow "gone bad," feeling like there was nothing left for me but to be tossed out in the trash, literally. (Isn't that what suicide is? A kind of throwing oneself away?) But yesterday, the Spirit told me through the scent of the sourdough that I was -- I am! -- exactly what the Lord wants me to be, what he needs me to be. Without that different savor, what would I be? Just the same of what the Lord already has plenty more of. The Lord needs me to be me if he is to accomplish through me the unique purpose that he has for me to accomplish. The Lord has mixed the unique ingredients, and he's put them away in that warm, safe place in the fleshy tabernacles of my heart, and now he's waiting and watching -- along with me! -- to see what I will become. To let that unique mix of ingredients do its work, to do what it is supposed to do.

This applies not just to figuring out the purpose of being gay. A week or so ago, I met my friend Reuben for lunch, and we had a heart-to-heart talk. I shared with him some of the pain and loneliness I've been feeling lately, and the realization that I could not walk the journey I need to walk alone. And he shared with me some of his own struggles. My friend Reuben is very heterosexual, and very happy in his marriage to his wife (and I'm very happy for them!). But somehow, we've recognized in each other gifts that the other needs. Reuben's unique blend of passion and compassion have enabled him to empathize with me in ways that other members of the ward and my elder's quorum cannot, and have enabled him to be a friend to me unlike any other member of the ward. And my unique blend of passion and compassion have, he confessed to me, strengthened his testimony and his faith. The two of us as friends have become so much stronger and so much more valuable than we would be separately.

Yesterday, in elder's quorum, our president spoke to Reuben's unique desire always to dig deeper into gospel principles, and what a strength that desire has been, how it has enabled Reuben to find a richness in the gospel that others might never find, because their passion is not the same. And I feel privileged to know of some of the pain and struggle -- the difficult stuff! -- behind that passion to dig deeper, that hunger to know! In other words, Reuben could not be Reuben without some of the pain and doubt. But that's what will make his faith and his testimony invaluable. Those are the qualities that will enable the Lord to use him in ways that the Lord could use nobody else.

Every single one of us is precious in that way. It's often those aspects of ourselves that we most despise, that we would wish away if we could, that make us most valuable, that the Lord uses to prepare something extraordinary!

We've also all been through that last part of the dough making process. It's not just the fermentation that makes the bread. It's the rising and the kneading. We've all experienced that expansive rising process. Those times when we can see the growth, when we feel great. And then -- out of nowhere! -- something slaps us down. Something punches us in the gut. (Maybe a certain conference talk by a certain general authority.) And it seems like all that growth has been lost, like everything we thought we knew, we don't know after all. But that "punching down," that working over, that "kneading," is actually preparing us for more growth. It's actually making way for another cycle of rising. And those ups and downs are a crucial part of the process. That's what "softens" us. It's what creates in us that invaluable quality of humility that enables us to be used by the Lord to accomplish his extraordinary purposes.

Jesus said, "I am the bread of life." Perhaps that meant more to people in ancient times who could not buy bread at the grocery store, who knew what the bread-making process required.

But Christ also said, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect." If we want the savor of that bread, we need to be prepared to go through some heartache.

But it will be worth it!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Last night, Göran and I attended a Minneapolis screening of the film Bullied, produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center. So far, over 30,000 copies of the film have been distributed to American schools, to assist with efforts to educate about the problem of anti-gay bullying. The film was shown at Central Lutheran Church -- the church supposedly "smitten" by God for hosting the national ELCA convention that voted to allow same-sex partnered Lutheran pastors to be ordained.

Göran knows Jamie Nabozny, whose story the film told, and whose 1996 court case made history by finding that school administrators were liable for failing to protect Jamie from bullying. Jamie literally fled to Minneapolis to escape the bullying in his home town of Ashland, Wisconsin, and eventually joined the gay fraternity Delta Lambda Phi, of which Göran is a founding member. More importantly, both Göran and I are familiar with the kind of bullying Jamie -- and so many other gay teens -- have had to endure and continue to endure in American schools. Fortunately I escaped the kind of physical attacks Jamie suffered; Göran did not. After watching the film, Göran told me for the first time about being physically assaulted in his high school's gymnasium shower. He described how being both black and gay in a predominantly white school in Iowa meant physical threats and assaults, as well as constant verbal harassment.

Göran and I both know that anti-gay bullying has nothing to do with our "acting gay," as school administrators asserted when Jamie went to them to plead for protection. We were just being ourselves.

The film was followed by short talks by leaders of the SPLC and by Jamie Nabozny. But the most heart-wrenching talk was that given by Tammy Aaberg, the mother of 13-year-old Justin Aaberg, who committed suicide last July as the result of anti-gay bullying in the Anoka, Minnesota school system. It seemed impossible to me that she should find the strength to address this kind of gathering a mere four months after finding her son hanged in his bedroom. It took incredible courage for her to stand before us, as she struggled to control her emotions long enough to communicate a clear and powerful message about how our schools aren't doing enough to make sure that all its children are valued and safe.

I want to thank the Southern Poverty Law Center for what it's doing to educate about this. I also want to thank Central Lutheran Church for hosting this event. Every single pew in that great cathedral was full. Just being there and partaking of the incredibly powerful feeling of love, care, and quiet determination to do the right thing was amazing. It was incredible being there, and having this feeling that all these people surrounding me were there on my side. I long for the day every church will show that same kind of commitment, and be the same kind of sanctuary of hope for GLBT folks.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Going Back: A Review

No Going Back by Jonathan Langford is essentially the coming out story of a gay Mormon teenager. It is also -- and this is very important! -- the story of all the significant people in his life, and the impact his coming out has on their own journeys of faith, and the impact that they have on his. The main character in the novel, Paul Ficklin, struggles to understand himself, and to find a voice and a place, both in the Church and in the world.

The novel occasionally reads a bit like an After School Special or a Church educational film in print -- except for the PG-13 parts, where euphemistic references are made to erections and masturbation and... an incident that isn't explicitly described except in a confession scene between Paul and his bishop. The novel also -- refreshingly, for literature aimed at an LDS audience -- does not shy away from the word "gay." Or, I should say, the novel acknowledges the reality that the word "gay" has entered the American English vernacular as a word simply denoting anybody attracted predominantly to members of their same sex. I suspect Langford recognized that had he, for the sake of Churchly political correctness, insisted on constantly afflicting the reader with terms like "same-gender attraction" he would have lost from the get-go what is evidently his prime target audience: Mormon youth growing up in the new millennium, youth who increasingly have openly gay acquaintances and friends at school.

No Going Back is told from the viewpoint of an omniscient third-person narrator, a literary device of which I am not a fan. However, I ultimately came to agree that using this narrative voice was the right choice for this novel because of the importance of telling this particular story from the different perspectives of each of the significant characters. Langford has done a beautiful job of portraying the nuanced impacts that each character in the story has on each of the others. And this is, in fact, what I love about this novel, what I believe makes it so powerful and important.

This novel is also important because though the main character is gay it is primarily not about sexuality but about faith, about what nurtures as well as what strangles faith. Though there were a few stylistic and philosophical things in the novel that bothered me (I've already covered the stylistic and I'll get to the philosophical later), I found myself deeply encouraged by this story, and deeply gratified that the author of this novel understands and values faith, and has told us a very realistic story about the difference that faith can make in a person's life.

A very important strand of the story involved showing the reader how terribly things could have gone wrong in the life of the main character if the most important people in his life had not been there for him, and if they had not been able to transcend their own prejudices and limitations in order to reach out to him. Paul Ficklin's lifelines, so to speak, were his (straight) best friend Chad, his bishop (who just happened to be Chad's father), and his divorced single mom. Each of these individuals let themselves be guided first and foremost by their love for and loyalty to Paul, and it was for the sake of that love and loyalty that they were willing to question certain ideas about homosexuality that they would have all but taken for granted if it had not been for Paul.

I was particularly moved by the relationship portrayed between Paul and his bishop, precisely because there is a moment portrayed in that relationship that very much reminded me of my relationship with my bishop at a critical moment in my own journey of faith.

Paul had been called as the teachers quorum president, but at some point after receiving his calling, in a moment of loneliness and depression, he looked at some Internet pornography with a friend and allowed that friend to masturbate him. The key moment in the novel is when Paul confesses what he has done to his bishop. Under such circumstances, one might expect his bishop to release him from his calling and perhaps even take other measures, such as requiring him to stop taking the sacrament or even perhaps going so far as to disfellowship or excommunicate him. Instead, Paul's bishop makes a pact with Paul. Paul promises never to engage in that kind of behavior again, and his bishop asks him to call daily and check in with him until they feel sure that Paul won't slip up. They talk about ways that Paul can be safe in his Internet use, and the importance of Paul avoiding situations that involve being in a house alone with a gay friend. Though his bishop is uncomfortable with Paul's participation in the Gay Straight Alliance at school (where Paul met the friend he ended up getting sexual with), the bishop does not forbid Paul from continuing to participate in the group. He lets Paul make those kinds of choices on his own. Most importantly, he keeps Paul as teachers quorum president.

Paul's bishop's actions motivated Paul to keep trying to do what he -- in his heart of hearts -- knew was right. They gave Paul a reason to keep trying. They sent Paul the message, in concrete ways, that Paul was good and that he was a valuable member of God's kingdom.

When I read this scene, I remembered a very similar situation in my own life. In my case, I had not looked at pornography. I had never let another guy touch me or been sexual in any way with another guy. I did struggle with masturbation. My BYU bishop had extended a calling to me to be a ward clerk. In the interview, I admitted that though I did my best to avoid masturbating, I occasionally succumbed to the temptation. My bishop told me he would not be extending me a calling after all. He took away my temple recommend. And he told me to stop taking the sacrament until I had been masturbation-free for a minimum of three months. I was shattered. I felt like the scum of the earth. When I pleaded with my bishop for advice about how to accomplish what he was asking of me, he suggested that I consider getting married as soon as possible. My bishop didn't offer to schedule regular talks or interviews to help me with this "problem." He wanted to see me again after I had been masturbation free for three months. That was pretty much the end for me. The short version of the story is the only appointment I was ultimately able to envision after that was an appointment with a running car motor in a closed garage. Thanks be to God, I found a better way, with the caring, kind assistance of an Episcopal priest.

The bishop in Langford's novel, by the way, does not stress excessively about masturbation. He encourages efforts at self-control, but not getting down on oneself because of it or "obsessing" about it. A central moral of Langford's tale is that our actions do have an impact on others. Yes, we can make the difference between a gay youth finding a way forward knowing that he is loved and valued, or literally perishing in unbelief -- a message more timely now in light of current events than ever! Langford presents an unstinting portrait of Mormon homophobia. He portrays Mormon youth taunting and belittling Paul and Mormon adults gossiping about him and referring to homosexuality as "evil." He portrays Mormon adults railing against homosexuality in Church meetings and describing it as a sign of "the end times." Paul is denied advancement to the rank of Eagle Scout because he is openly gay. And Paul's bishop is portrayed as having to face criticism for allowing an openly gay youth to hold a leadership position in the ward. Ultimately, in fact, the taunting and ostracism of Paul by the youth of the ward and the discrimination on the part of the Boy Scouts of America are portrayed as the driving factors in Paul's clinical depression, his need to go on anti-depressant meds, and the decision of Paul's mom to move so that Paul could get a fresh start somewhere else. (Did she really have to move to Utah though?)

Even though homophobia is (rightly!) portrayed as having a painful and devastating effect on Paul, Paul is also (rightly!) portrayed as having the ability to transcend the pettiness and hateful behavior around him, to find the inner strength that enables him to live and have joy, regardless of outward circumstances and regardless of the unkind ways others try to define him. And, in the end, the key to the inner strength that Paul finds is his testimony and his relationship with God. Once Paul finds that, he is able to face extreme circumstances with equanimity and with charity.

The issue for gay Mormons, I believe, is not to reconcile our homosexuality and the Church. It is to access the resources of courage, love, and hope that faith permits us to access. Homophobia in the Church is a stumbling block, to be sure. But if homophobia in the Church is to be overcome, it will be because we understand the larger picture of what faith is and why it is important. We will overcome homophobia in the Church not because we find some way to fit homosexuality into Mormon theology, but rather because we learn to see God more clearly, with eyes unclouded by fear. I think Jonathan Langford, in the way he has unfolded this story, has understood and done a good job of portraying this profound truth.


Having said that, I do have a couple of reservations about the resolution portrayed in the novel, and the message it potentially sends to LDS readers, both gay and straight.

This novel is about choices, and specifically the choices faced by gay Mormons. There are several key points where characters in the novel are portrayed saying things like, "[Paul is] going to be making a lot of choices over the next few years that will make a difference for -- well, forever." For the main character of this novel, those choices presumably include whether or not ultimately to seek a committed relationship with a person of the same sex.

But in relation to that choice in particular, there's a kind of bait and switch in the novel. The novel certainly places this question at center stage, given the central role in the novel of the political debate over gay marriage. Conflict over gay marriage and the reactions of individuals to this political debate drive most of the action in the second half of the novel. There are also moments in the novel when both Paul's mother and his bishop are portrayed musing about same-sex relationships. But Paul -- the gay Mormon character -- does not.

This is significant. There is never a moment in the novel where Paul gives serious consideration to the possibility of a committed relationship with a person of the same-sex. At some level, this is natural. The novel essentially portrays one year in the life of a 15-year-old gay Mormon. Any kind of committed relationship -- gay or straight -- was certainly the furthest thing from my mind when I was 15. In Mormon culture, 15 years old is not even old enough to date, much less think about a committed relationship.

What Paul does is have a sexual experience with another guy. So most of Paul's energy within the scope of the novel is focused on repenting of this act and avoiding a similar lapse again. Now again, this seems appropriate in terms of the kinds of choices that 15- and 16-year-olds are actually making in relation to sexuality. Establishing appropriate boundaries and learning self-control are among the key things that young adults of that age are learning in relation to sex. This is certainly true of most heterosexual kids I know/have known in that age group, and it was certainly true of our gay foster son during that period of his life, which is one reason why my husband and I established rules and boundaries for our son that were not much different from the rules Paul's bishop expected him to follow in the novel.

But the problem is that in the framework of this novel, this act of sexual fooling around ends up standing for the choice that Paul faces in terms of homosexuality and the Church. The only choice. This becomes all the more problematic when we consider how same-sex relationships are characterized in the novel.

Completely absent in the novel is any realistic portrayal of a committed, long-term same-sex relationship. The novel relies, instead, on a particular, negative characterization of same-sex relationships (that appears in the thought processes of Paul's mother and his bishop) in order to provide the rational structure within which a commitment to the LDS Church is sustained. That characterization includes the assertions that: A) the love between two members of the same-sex is only a counterfeit of the true love between two members of the opposite sex, and therefore of necessity inferior to heterosexual love, and B) entering into a same-sex relationship can (therefore) perhaps offer pleasure in the short-term, but only unhappiness and misery in the long-term. This characterization is the primary support for the argument under-girding the novel that the Church's restrictions -- though seemingly unreasonable -- are actually calculated to ensure individuals' greatest happiness.

That sounds good in theory, if you come from a culture saturated with anti-gay stereotypes, as most Mormons do. But it runs into trouble the moment you encounter happy, truly loving, real-life, same-sex relationships. There's much more I could say on this score, but I'll let it go at that for now.

I think the larger question is whether the church's position against same-sex marriage necessitates belief that the love between two people of the same sex must be less loving and must lead to misery. If so, then actual data on the quality of same-sex relationships can potentially disrupt LDS beliefs about marriage. From a Latter-day Saint perspective (to speak nothing of a more general Christian perspective), I think there is a problem with arguing for the spiritual inferiority and/or sinfulness of same-sex relationships, if there doesn't appear to be any qualitative difference in terms of love or happiness between same-sex relationships and heterosexual relationships. Sin in the classic sense has concrete, this-worldly consequences with observable, measurable impacts on this-worldly happiness. Lying, stealing, coveting, murder, adultery, substance abuse, all have clear, observable, obvious impacts on an individual's ability to live happily and lead a productive, positive life. In Mormon terms, "wickedness never was happiness." So if we find genuinely happy, loving same-sex relationships, where does that leave a theological position that same-sex relationships can only be sinful?

A young, gay Latter-day Saint beginning to feel with increasing urgency the hunger to connect intimately with another human being needs to know if the unique demands the Church makes of him or her can for a life-time actually be navigated successfully, not just theoretically, and not just in the imagination of a well-meaning author. If they are encouraged in the path of LDS faithfulness by holding up an ultimately falsifiable stereotype of same-sex love, are we setting them up for a very deep kind of disillusionment, not to mention an ultimate loss of faith?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wearing Purple

I was bullied in school. There was a group of guys who -- for lack of a better word -- enjoyed sexually harassing me. They would say really vulgar things, and ask me sexually explicit questions, just to see if they could upset me or get some kind of a reaction out of me. They'd also taunt me for being Mormon, with questions like "How many mothers do you have?" The sexual teasing was also related to being Mormon, because these bullies knew I was deeply religious and sexual teasing was the most religiously offensive thing they could think to do. I never thought it was obvious I was gay, but -- according to my sister -- it was considered common knowledge in my high school that I was also queer, a fag. So if that's the case, I was literally tortured for being both gay and Mormon.

Fortunately I was never physically assaulted, though in seventh grade (when I was 12 and 13) the teasing, taunting and bullying was almost constant. Every day there were new insults (or, old insults tediously recycled again and again). It was almost unbearable, and it was everywhere -- in class, out of class, during lunch, and of course the dreaded gym class. In the lunch room there were a group of them who would converge on me like a pack of wolves, and start on me with the nasty questions almost every day.

I generally did the best I could to avoid giving them satisfaction by reacting in any way. Though my mom tells me every day of the seventh grade I would arrive home in tears.

I guess I understood why other, well-meaning kids never stood up for me. Who wants to be next on the bullies' list? What I never understood was why teachers and gym coaches and lunchroom attendants never did anything. They had real power in that situation, but they always looked the other way.

Life does get better. People (usually) eventually grow up and learn that being an asshole is no fun. Junior high is the worst.

I want to say that it was my faith that helped me survive. Knowing that there is right, and the right will eventually prevail gave me both patience and endurance. My faith, and the loving upbringing I had from my parents, also helped me to believe in my own goodness. To know that even if people treated me like shit, I was not shit. Thanks to my parents and my faith, I never doubted in high school that life was worth living, nor that I would eventually prevail over my adversaries.

My suicide crisis came later, in college, as I was coming to terms with my gayness, when certain elements of my religious upbringing made it impossible for me to believe in my own fundamental goodness, and when I began to doubt that I could succeed at anything important in life or find long-term happiness. That I survived that was something like a miracle.

But I'm here, I made it. I survived the bullying and coming out, and have a life I wouldn't trade for any other. I have a husband and a son and a great home; I'm able to do things I love -- writing and teaching. More importantly, I know who I am, and I have a relationship with God and a life full of spirit and truth as well. I've had my share of struggles, but also my fair share of triumphs. And I'm wearing a purple shirt today as a way of saying to those who are still struggling, that life holds too many big surprises to give up on it before you've had a chance to see what they are.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The One True Church?

Kevin (MidKnight543) recently expressed strong objections to an experience I described in Church recently, where I felt the Spirit had born witness to me that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "is Christ's Church.... the only Church that acts with Christ's full authority and has a true and complete understanding of his doctrine." He said he would quit following my blog as a result.

My purpose in writing this blog has, of course, always been to find a way forward as a gay Latter-day Saint. There have always been folks out there who think I'm crazy to be a Mormon. There are other faiths that are much more accommodating of same-sex relationships, and why couldn't I embrace one of those instead? Mormonism is so obviously a fraud and hokum, etc., etc. And then of course there are (probably the majority) within my own faith who reject the various spiritual experiences I've had prompting me to stay in relationship with my husband. All those folks are entitled to their opinions. I'm even open to having civil conversations with them on my blog about my beliefs, and am happy to explain why I believe the way I do and not some other way. And in the end, I hope for some respect, just as I try to be respectful of others. And if you're really unhappy with my views, and it really hurts that much to read them, no one has ever obliged you to read my blog.

If someone finds any of my views so upsetting that they don't even want to read what I have to say, it is probably pointless to try to rationally explain my views to that person. So I debated as to whether I should even make the attempt here. At the same time, I do understand why certain people might be offended by the statement I made, especially if they take it out of context or don't understand how it fits in the overall framework of my beliefs and values. So, for the sake of those who were offended or confused but who are nonetheless still reading my blog, I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss this a bit -- both what it does and does not mean to me to believe in "one true Church."

The religious experience I described is -- first and foremost -- just that. An experience. Intellectually, I find it more comfortable and defensible to back away from the kinds of absolutistic statements I described receiving as a witness of the Spirit. It's perhaps my own personal discomfort with the statement that is prompting me (perhaps somewhat defensively) to feel I ought to explain myself here. I could certainly rationalistically distance myself from the experience. I could try to explain it away in terms of religious psychology or sociology. But the point is, this is an experience I had. It is not something I chose to have (at least not consciously), it is something that came to me quite unbidden. I did not expect to have this experience when I went to Church this past Sunday.

Nor, should I add, is it necessarily an experience or a revelation that makes life easy for me. Embedded in the experience was my sense that it is not helpful for me to argue with Church leaders (such as Elder Boyd K. Packer) about the morality of same-sex relationships or the nature of homosexuality. For obvious reasons, that's not so convenient for someone in a committed same-sex relationship.

But what I've discovered in my journey is that advancing spiritually requires a certain level of trust. It requires learning to recognize the Spirit of the Living God, and surrendering to it. When I have done so in the past, the Spirit has led me in fruitful, life-giving directions. I have -- in other words -- a relationship with God that is tried and tested and has been validated again and again for me. So even when the Spirit's promptings are intellectually uncomfortable, I've learned to trust and see where they lead me.

That is the importance of this experience that I've had. What does it mean to have received (and to accept as valid) a revelation that the LDS Church "is Christ's Church.... the only Church that acts with Christ's full authority and has a true and complete understanding of his doctrine"? It means potentially lots of things, but first and foremost it means I have an obligation to stay committed to this path somehow. It means I won't ditch it for some other spiritual path that is more pleasing or convenient to me. I am committed to learn what I need to learn from this path, no matter how personally difficult it can be at times.

Here's what it doesn't mean: that I think what everyone else believes is a load of crap. That I have no respect or love for other faiths or other churches. Anyone who has read my blog for more than a few entries knows how much I cherish and love every faith and every religious path that individuals pursue sincerely and with devotion. I am fascinated by other religions, and I spend at least as much -- if not more! -- time studying them as I do my own. Other faiths teach me profound truths about my own. Furthermore, other faiths have truths that are often overlooked in Mormonism, and that enrich my life as I am able to incorporate them into my own, Mormon belief system.

My own faith teaches me that if I am to be a true believer in Jesus Christ, I must love and respect people of other faiths as my own brothers and sisters. I should be as willing to defend them, serve them, and strengthen them as I am members of my own faith. I am utterly committed to their freedom of worship and freedom to practice their faiths, so long as doing so does not infringe on the rights of others. (And I will also be quick to jump into the fray on the side of religious freedom and against my own faith community, if I perceive that my faith community is trying, in some way, to infringe on the rights of others.)

Finally, I recognize that others may have strong beliefs that conflict with my own. Others may belong to Churches that they have their own reasons for believing to be "the one true." I have no problem at all with that. My advice to anyone in any religious path is that you must follow your conscience, find truth as best you can, and be faithful. I feel I have the right (and the obligation) to demand the same privilege.

I believe that every person of faith -- no matter what faith they profess -- has a moment where they, in essence, confess, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6: 68). Everyone has some reason why they choose the religion they choose and why they -- push comes to shove -- believe their faith is truer than any other. Different faiths promote different hermeneutics for discerning truth. Conservative Christians emphasize a more literal reading of scripture and the sufficiency of the Bible alone. Liberal Christians emphasize reason. Mormons emphasize the Spirit and modern-day revelation. That's why a Conservative Christian will justify his or her beliefs through proof-texting and a close reading of the Bible. A Liberal Christian will stress how his or her rational evaluation of truth claims has led him or her to embrace a certain system of faith. Mormons, on the other hand, will certainly read scriptures carefully and subject truth claims to rational analysis, but in the end give priority to the witness of the Spirit. A Mormon, in the end, is encouraged to choose their true religion because it is where the Spirit has guided them.

Mormons are constantly attacked by conservative Christians on scriptural grounds, and by liberal Christians on rational grounds. Conservative and liberal Christians alike, on the other hand, get offended when Mormons simply explain that they believe their church is true because the Spirit has witnessed it to them. But there's no point in getting offended by that, any more than that Mormons should be offended that conservative and liberal Christians question their hermeneutic on scriptural or rational grounds.

I do believe that something wonderful can happen when we get over this kind of defensiveness and commit to learn from each other. If we can't hopefully learn from one another on these terms, we can at least hopefully co-exist peacefully and lovingly.