Saturday, January 23, 2010

Celibate

My dictionary defines "celibate" as "abstaining from marriage and sexual relations, typically for religious reasons."

When I was growing up, celibacy was an alien concept in Mormonism. We certainly learned about the "law of chastity," which in the Mormon context meant reserving all sexual expression for marriage. In some contexts, such as the Roman Catholic, chastity has connotations similar to celibacy of total, life-long abstinence from sexual relations, as in the "vows of chastity" taken by the clergy. Mormons use the word "chastity" in a different way from Roman Catholics. But there has traditionally been no place among Mormons for "celibacy," which always been to them an alien and apostate notion. That is, until recently.

The classic Mormon statement on celibacy is found in the D&C, section 49, verse 15: "And again, verily I say unto you, that whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man." It's possible that this revelation, received very early in the history of the Latter-day Church, in 1831, was specifically directed not against Catholics but against Shakers, who at that point in American history, were vigorously proselytizing throughout the northern United States, and had established dynamic and growing communes in upstate New York and in Ohio, in proximity to the gathering centers of early Mormonism. The Shakers, led by Mother Ann Lee, believed that marriage was a sin, and taught that the pathway to God required total celibacy.

Doctrine & Covenants 49 also affirmed that "it is lawful that [man] should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation; And that it might be filled with the measure of man, according to his creation before the world was made" (vss. 16-17). This could also be seen as a strong repudiation of the doctrines taught by the Shakers, since the Shakers believed that universal celibacy was necessary to restore the earth to the paradisaical state that existed before the fall of Adam and Eve. The Shakers believed that the fall literally consisted of sex, and so in order to undo the fall, humankind must stop having sex. Mormons of course had a very different view of the fall: "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy." D&C 49 affirmed that far from being a sin, marriage and procreation "answered the end of creation," that it was part of a purpose that was established "before the world was made."

This doctrine was elaborated upon through a later revelation received by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois, in July 1843, D&C section 132 on the "new and everlasting covenant of marriage." In this section of the D&C, which was not made public for some years after it was received, the practice of plural marriage was explained, and the doctrine of "eternal marriage" was revealed. Here, not only was it wrong to teach celibacy, but singleness was described as a form of damnation. Those who do not marry in this life are destined in the next life to "remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity." They "cannot be enlarged" and "henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever," as "ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory" (vss. 16-17).

That's heavy. Especially in light of the fact that since 2006, official statements and publications of the Church in relation to the issue of homosexuality are now stressing that individuals with same-sex attraction are not to marry, unless they feel a "great attraction" to the individual of the opposite sex whom they are marrying.

The role of singles in the Church has always created a challenge for LDS communities, specifically because of the doctrine found in D&C 132. Apart from the Manifesto officially ending the practice of polygamy, there has been no revelation significantly modifying the teachings of D&C 132 since it was first promulgated. And this has been a heavy burden for all those who -- for whatever reason -- have found it impossible to marry in the temple.

The principle of vicarious ordinance work does present a potential loophole which has been unofficially exploited by LDS leaders as well as rank-and-file faithful to at least give some hope and comfort to the "singles" of the Church. After all, it is painful enough to have to live singly in this life -- especially in a culture where everything seems to revolve around coupling and having families. To be told that as a consequence of being unable to marry, you will suffer singleness not only here in this life but for all eternity, to many that's a burden that seems almost incapable of being born. It is natural, I think, to want to offer some hope, so many faithful Latter-day Saints have adopted the belief that those who are unable to find a mate in this life will be provided the opportunity to find and marry an eternal mate in the next life.

There is, of course, no scriptural basis for this belief, which is rapidly becoming so widespread among LDS faithful as to have risen to quasi official status. This belief becomes logically almost impossible to resist, given the Church's official position on homosexuality, because otherwise it just does not seem fair, and Latter-day Saints believe in a God who is perfectly fair. But in fact, D&C 132 specifically teaches against a belief in post mortal marriage. D&C 132 is unequivocal that these marital contracts are contracts that must be entered into "in the world." If you marry any other way "in the world" or if you do not marry in this way "in the world," the conditions are spelled out. You will remain "separately and singly" in the next world. (See especially verses 13, 15 and 22-23.) In fact, D&C 132 could be seen as an extended elaboration upon the biblical principle: "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven" (Matthew 22:30 and Mark 12:25). D&C 132:16 affirms this as an absolute principle. In the next life, there is no marrying or giving in marriage. That's why we have eternal marriage in temples in the world.

So if you are gay, or handicapped in such a way as to preclude marriage, or divorced, or just a good, old-fashioned life-long bachelor or "spinster," the best you can hope for -- at least in so far as is spelled out in D&C 132 -- is eternal servanthood. Seemingly as if to rub salt into the wounds of all of us who find ourselves in any of these situations through no fault of our own, D&C 132: 22-23 concludes, "For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it."

Now I have a testimony of the Church, and I also have a testimony of these teachings. I do not reject them. I have no basis for rejecting them. I realize at some intellectual level that these teachings should fill me with despair, and at some point in my journey of faith they did just that. In fact, this doctrinal problem was at the heart of the despair that nearly led me to take my own life in 1986. But somehow I've come through the other side of despair, doubt, anger, and rejection and found what I can only describe as perfect hope and joy, grounded in the personal reassurances I've received through the Spirit that I am OK, that there is nothing wrong with me in my created being, and that everything will work out for me not only in this life but in eternity. I don't know how things will work out for me (or others in my situation), but I know they will.

Those of us who are faithful LDS and non-temple-married will each have to make our own peace with this teaching in our own way. Some of us can and do reject the doctrine itself as simply out of harmony with what we know or believe of the love, justice and mercy of God. Of course LDS doctrine related to marriage has become so important in LDS community and LDS culture that it's hard to reject this doctrine piecemeal. Many of us have rejected the Church in its entirety over this doctrine.

I don't have a problem with the belief that those not given an opportunity to find a mate in this life will be offered that chance in the next one. There's no scriptural basis for it... yet. That tiny word "yet" can be pregnant with hope in a Church that sees continuing revelation at the core of its reason for existing.

A long time ago, Chedner wrote an essay describing how he came to terms with this doctrine by making peace with eternal servanthood. I have always remembered that essay. (I can't provide the link, because it was a LONG time ago and I don't have the patience to go searching for it. Though I'll post a link here if Chedner is so kind as to provide it.) Of all the ways of finding hope, that resonates best with me. I like it not just because it is scriptural, but because of the movement of soul that is required to accept this as a form of hope. To give up desire for glory and dominion and to choose instead the way of selfless love and service is the heart of the gospel way. It is, without question, the way Christ himself walked -- whether or not Christ himself married in this life. It is not just "a" scriptural way of finding hope, it is "the" scriptural way.

In my last post I described a spiritual path that gay Saints may follow, that leads from despair to self-knowledge, from self-knowledge to self-love, and finally from self-love to unconditional love of others, which will enable us to fully realize Zion, the highest aspiration of our religion. I suggested that the "self-love" stage "includes acceptance of our limitations and recognition that it is legitimate for us to seek to meet the basic human need for intimacy and relationship." I think it is worthwhile to reflect on the meaning of celibacy in relation to that statement, because I do see celibacy as a potentially faithful and enriching spiritual path, one that can lead us to the end goal of Zion.

Celibacy will fail as a spiritual path if it is not grounded in healthy self-love and in a belief in the legitimate right each of us has to establish intimate relationships according to our ability. If our celibacy is based upon fear of our sexuality, or is grounded in some sense that we are inferior in our created selves or not deserving of an intimate relationship just like everyone else, those reasons for entering into a celibate path will gnaw at our souls until they destroy us. In this I must wholeheartedly second the words of D&C 49:15: "Whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God."

The Church has officially enjoined gay men and lesbians without some significant level of bisexuality to live lives of celibacy. In terms of purely practical considerations -- in comparison with the old policy of encouraging people to simply ignore their same-sex attraction and get married to a member of the opposite sex -- this is a huge step forward, if only because it does not encourage the creation of unions that for the most part, result in tremendous, destructive heartache and loss of faith. It has a second, spiritual benefit, of giving gay men and lesbians time to think about their choices in terms of relationships and sexuality. If we are in doubt about our path, it is good to avoid making indelible commitments until we are sure. So celibacy can give us time and space -- either to discern whether we feel called to the celibate life, or to prepare for a relationship. I was celibate until the age of 24, and it didn't kill me.

If life-long celibacy is chosen, not out of fear of sex or fear of damnation, but out of a desire for service; if celibacy becomes an expression of self-love that then turns outward toward using all of one's time and energy and gifts for helping others; then it can and will save not only us but others. It can allow us be "ministering angels" in this life, it can enable us to serve in the way Christ served, and to receive all the unfathomable joy that can come with that.

13 comments:

Mister Curie said...

Not only have homosexuals "rejected the Church in its entirety over this doctrine" many others have rejected the Church over the doctrine of polygamy taught in D&C 132 and the harsh tone directed at Emma in these verses, which seem unlike the voice of a loving God.

thefirestillburning said...

John:

As usual, a very thoughtful post. I can only begin to imagine how hard it is for those who are not exclusively heterosexual to deal with something like Section 132 when I realize how hard the CofChrist is about to struggle with these issues in the North American church.

And our theology has no belief in the divinity of that revelation to complicate matters.

FireTag

cal thomp said...

That was always a favorite of mine from 3DogNight
"celibate...celibate...dance to the music..."
Appr. the post. Food for thought.

J G-W said...

Mister Curie - Yes, I've wrestled with both of those things in D&C 132 as well.

TFSB - Yes, at one point it seemed to me that gay Latter-day Saints must have a much harder row to hoe, because of the specific teachings about marriage that you don't find in the COC or in mainline Christian denominations. If Matthew 22:30 (with the standard mainline Christian exegeses that follow from it) is the definitive statement on marriage in the next life, discussions about homosexuality then simply boil down to questions of ethics, love and law.

Still, I would choose LDS doctrine, which assigns ultimate meaning to physical bodies, and the relationships we establish in these bodies.

But ultimately, these problems won't be resolved doctrinally, they will be resolved through patience and faithfulness.

Cal - I had a Catholic friend who used to say, "If celibacy is a gift, I want to know where the returns department is..."

thefirestillburning said...

John:

I think it is possible to hold a theology in which our physical bodies are "inseparably connected" to spirit without imposing a universality on the form of those bodies, let alone saying that there is an ideal gender form and relationship.

I think it is NECESSARY to hold a theology in which the relationship between our bodies and spirits is a bit more complex than early Christianity envisioned, and JS carried over into portions of the Restoration.

Eternal family is available, I believe, in the "new wine" of the gospel without being limited to the "old bottle" of a particular human culture.

FireTag

J G-W said...

Fire Tag - I think I understand what you're saying, though I'm not 100% sure, so let me try to restate it...

I think you are saying that Latter-day Saints aren't the only ones who picture eternal life in physical terms, or who believe in some form of eternal marriage or eternal family..(?) Although you're not sure if eternal life and eternal relationships will be configured in quite the literal terms that some Latter-day Saints seem to picture it? Did I get it right?

If so... Then I think I agree on both points.

I find a "fullness of joy" in my relationship with my husband -- spiritual, emotional, and physical. I can't picture a fully happy life in the eternities in which my life was not intertwined with his. I picture us being woven into both of our great families as part of that fullness of joy too... Will we look the same way we do now? How physically similar will we be to what we look like now? Will our bodies be gendered in the same way they are in this life? Will men in resurrected bodies have a penis and testicles, and will women have a vagina and ovaries? Will gender vanish in the next life, or will it persist in some recognizable but different way?

Those are all good questions I've heard Latter-day Saints ask on various occasions, and the answer is always, I don't know. People might have hunches or leanings... Personally, I have no light on this matter, but I am certain that whatever it is like it will be good.

thefirestillburning said...

John:

I want to tread carefully here, lest I fall into the very trap I'm trying to point out, but anyone experiencing revelation still "sees through a glass darkly". God is greater than we understand, so even when we are having revelation, we still struggle with our humanness and interpret the revelation in light of our own personal and cultural backgroundm as well as our situational needs.

Given my background, which is every much as Restoration as yours, and has a strong personal testimony in it as yours does, I can see ways to get a theology of eternal families out of the testimonies of Joseph WITHOUT requiring the terrible sacrafices the LDS (and, for now, my own denomination) do of those who are not exclusively heterosexual.

It is not LDS theology that's wrong, it's the cosmology in which it is framed. That's how, in my opinion, it will all work out as has been promised to you. The "essential" theological elements will emerge from the cultural baggage, hopefully soon.

It's time we stopped thinking that God REALLY wants Abraham to plunge the knife into Isaac's chest for some great purpose. It's time we looked up, noticed the angel, and freed our people from misunderstood burdens that deny companionship and intimacy.

I feel strongly about this.

FireTag

J G-W said...

If I understand you correctly, I believe we're on the same page here.

I hope you didn't get the idea that I think your restoration credentials are subpar if you belong to the Community of Christ... Trust me, I don't look at things that way. I don't know if you saw the review I wrote of Homosexual Saints for the Journal of Mormon History... I think the world of the Community of Christ, and am very grateful for the testimony of the COC as a whole, and of individual members, both gay and straight.

However, I wasn't aware that the Community of Christ had a theology of eternal families. I always saw that as being pretty closely tied to the teachings in D&C 132 (LDS version, of course), and to sealing practices carried on in LDS temples, which I knew were not a part of the Community of Christ tradition. Perhaps you can point me to something I can read to learn more?

santorio said...

Your comments about servanthood remind me of a G.A. story. At a BYU fireside/devotional an earnest student expressed concern that though trying very hard to be obedient he still was sure of his own salvation/exaultation. The G.A. replied by remarking how his own wife had the same concerns. The G.A. told the students that he had reassured his wife that her obedience was complete and she should not fear eternity.

But haven't these three individuals missed the point? If one is so worried about one's own salvation, doesn't this suggest a selfishness that is contradictory to Christian teachings? Lose yourself in service to others and let someone else figure out what to do with you later on.

Didn't most of us grow up with 2 1/2 minute S.S. or youth talks in which at least once a year someone read a poem about "Abou ben Adam" (or something like that--Google has failed me here)?

thefirestillburning said...

John:

I did not take your comment as offensive in any way. For the reasons Santorio just pointed out, the CofChrist spends relatively little time thinking about life on the other side of the veil, so its theology in that regard is stuck in the early 20th Century. It has the notion of the glories, and hell as a place for redemption, and as you note does NOT view ordinances as "sealing" things as the LDS do. In some ways it looks like Protestantism with 3 heavens instead of one.

But as a physicist, I've felt compelled to try to personally understand my Restoration heritage (which includes the miraculous occurring in my own family history and personal experiences I can not deny) in ways that don't produce cognative dissonance for me as a scientist. So I do think about such questions as a way to test our theological understanding, because monotheism itself compels me to envision a God who deals on cosmic scales.

Our understanding of the universe has radically altered over the past several decades. I am convinced BOTH that the Restoration was an inspired movement, and that a theological framework first set forth when people thought the earth was flat and stars were holes in the domed ceiling of the firmament is inadequate.

I am PERSONALLY convinced that better theological interpretations are already available from modern cosmology for the unique Scriptures of the Restoration that the LDS and CofChrist share (not 132). Since CofChrist is focused on Zion-building, my speculation is idle there; our cosmology matters little to our theology.

But LDS theology IS closely tied to Joseph having interpreted his own experiences in light of everyday 19th Century understandings of time, space, and earth's place in the universe. So, if you correct the 19th Century cosmology, it becomes possible to reexamine any and every doctrine about the eternal family that LDS hold dear.

When that is done, I suspect that many of the LDS beliefs emerge quite naturally: preexistence, priesthood lineage, polygamy in heaven (even in tandem with monogamy on earth)-- which is going to surprise my denomination mightily. At the same time, the necessity of gender roles does NOT naturally emerge: attitudes toward women priesthood, gay marriage, large families, and the like seem to be cultural rather than written in some way into the "cosmic structure of the universe".

So a theology that does not eternally marginalize the non-heterosexual CAN work out without violating one's basic testimony of the inspired origin of the Restoration.

I wrote a couple of posts on my blog last June entitled "You've Read This Post Before" and "Duality and Divinity" in which I begin to lay out such ideas as they emerge from modern physics. Since I'm not sure what html this comment form accepts, perhaps the best thing is to point you to the June 2009 archive there rather than try to link them directly.

FireTag
thefirestillburning.wordpress,com

J G-W said...

Santorio - I agree absolutely. Nothing is more spiritually corrosive than obedience driven by hunger for rewards and/or fear of punishment. It's hard to emphasize how completely anyone who "does faith" this way has completely misapprehended the Gospel.

It is interesting to me how frequently certain commenters on my blog lately have thought they might motivate me to see things their way by menacing me with eternal damnation if I "persist" in "the homosexual lifestyle." To me its very revealing about the motives underlying their "faith."

There's a reason why time and time again in scripture, Christ and the prophets have reminded those who felt most lost that they were most blessed.

FireTag - FASCINATING!

Standard HTML links work in this blog format, so please, by all means, provide the links. I, and perhaps other readers, will be very interested to read more of what you've had to say about this.

Anonymous said...

OK, here we go with the links, but the form refuses to accept them under open ID, so I'm posting as anonymous.

You've Read This Post Before

Duality and Divinity

I obviously can not declare that these are the ideas that are right; physicists are still refining their ideas of cosmology seemingly every time a new instrument is launched. I'm trying to get through reading a paper now that purports to show how both Newtonian mechanics and Einstein relativity can be naturally derived from information theory and a little thermodynamics.

But I hope these posts illustrate how broad are the possibilities and hopes for reconciling the Restoration to new theological understandings of physical sexuality and the human spirit.

FireTag

J G-W said...

FireTag - Thanks, I look forward to reading them.