Monday, July 26, 2010

Experience or Inference?

Bravone recently completed a 5-part series on "God, Spirituality, Religion and the LDS Church, and Where I Fit in as One of Father's Gay Sons."  I've engaged him there in a conversation about whether or not homosexuality is a mere mortal condition, or whether there are aspects of it that are eternal.  My response to his thinking about this exceeded the blogger maximum length of 4,096 characters!  So it's posted here...

If I understand what you're saying, you essentially affirm that homosexuality must be a mortal condition because of inferences you draw from the temple ceremony and from Latter-day scripture, because of explicit statements by modern day prophets and apostles. Also, you're drawing inferences from nature.

However, your sense that there must be aspects of homosexuality that are eternal seem to be – correct me if I'm wrong – drawn from direct personal observation. Both from your personal experience, as well as direct experience of the world around you. You observe that homosexuals have certain “very desirable” “qualities, talents and characteristics, either inherent or acquired.” You suggest that “living as a gay man or woman in a predominately heterosexual world” is responsible for some of these traits (such as “humility” or “compassion” maybe?). But you list other traits that don't seem logically “acquired” and are good candidates for “inherent” (such as “sensitivity,” “color” and “arts,” for example?).

To me, it is first of all very interesting that your conclusions from observation and experience seem to pull you in the opposite direction from your conclusions based on “official teaching” or inference. That is my experience as well.

My experience also includes personal spiritual experience. My suicidal despair over my condition came largely from the fact that I was relying solely on official teaching, which at some very deep level left me feeling utterly hopeless and worthless. But when I did as James directs, and, lacking wisdom, asked of God, I got a very different kind of answer, i.e., “Your homosexuality is an inherent, created part of you that I know and understand, and that is good.” And so I was being asked by my Heavenly Father, in some very profound sense, to simply trust what he was telling me about my own created goodness – even though the world around me, particularly the world of official church teaching, radically disconfirmed that. That was in 1986, right after my near suicide and right before I left the Church.

My second experience was in early 2006, after I had started attending Church again in response to prompting from the Holy Spirit. And there was this very desperate moment where – again, aware of the profound disconnect between official teaching and my own personal experience – I prayed to God trying to understand. How could I have this witness from the Spirit that the Church is true and that I need to be there, when I also have had these profound spiritual experiences affirming that there is nothing wrong with me in my created nature and that my relationship with my husband is very good? I specifically raised the whole question of exaltation and eternal happiness, and how that relates to my relationship with my husband. I put that on the table, and essentially said, If I need to leave this relationship, if that is your will, I'll find a way to do it. It won't be easy, but I trust that you can lead me in the path I need to go. And again, the answer I got was very, exceedingly clear. Under no conditions was I to make any attempt to end my relationship with my husband, that to do so would be a sin. AND, I need have no fear for my eternal welfare or happiness. My Heavenly Father made it known to me that he was extremely pleased with me, and I need simply to trust.

I understand the extreme skepticism with which most good LDS in the pews (and on the stand in General Conference) will regard those kinds of spiritual experiences.

I also understand that, for most LDS, it is out of compassion and the “pure love of Christ” that they would urge me to quit my relationship with my husband (and that they go to the polls and try to legally take rights away from me and my husband). From the perspective of official LDS teaching, homosexuality is a mere mortal condition, and to try to build an eternal life based on it is just setting me up for stagnation and unhappiness in the life to come. I understand that.

You, however, have here and elsewhere stated that you have no problem with homosexual relationships; that it is not your desire to discriminate or take anything away from them. That seems out of harmony with official teaching. But it seems less out of harmony with your personal experience.

I'm not trying to embarrass you here... If anyone has reason to be embarrassed, under these circumstances, it is me. After all, you're the one being faithful. You're in good standing in the Church, and I'm excommunicated with no chance in sight of being restored to Church membership. And I've had to wrestle with all the doubts that come with being “out of harmony with the brethren” on a point that they seem to consider fundamental. But I don't find myself out of harmony with God. Which, given my testimony, is confusing and damned inconvenient. But there you have it...

But I am aware of a dynamic here. I've seen it in other churches besides the LDS Church. People who know and love homosexuals tend to be more open to the value and goodness of same-sex relationships. People who have no personal experience tend to be more judgmental, and less willing to tolerate same-sex relationships. Why does personal experience with this seem to complicate this question rather than clarify it? I don't think you can just write it off as being corrupted by the world... To hew the line, you almost have to blind and deafen yourself to real world experience, and that, to me, seems an unhealthy perspective for people of faith...



J G-W said...

Bravone - I only posted this here because of the length... If you want to keep the conversion going on your blog, you can respond to this under your original post! Or respond here... Either is fine.

MoHoHawaii said...

Effectively, there are three solutions available to a gay Mormon: 1) walk away, 2) conform or 3) adapt your belief within the LDS context (and accept being excommunicated). I have compassion for people who take all three of these paths. None is easy.

Path #3 is for spiritual giants. John, I don't know if you realize how extraordinary your spirituality is. Most don't have the self-confidence (i.e., spiritual cojones) to follow this path. Your path is as much about the questions you dared to ask as the witness you received.

The problem I have with path #2 (orthodoxy) is that we often underestimate the pain that it causes. It's the road to destruction for many (as your life story amply testifies, as well as my own story and those of Stuart Matis, Todd Ransom and a truly shameful number of others who are no longer with us).

Path #2 seems to work in the long run only for those, like Bravone, who are in stable mixed-orientation marriages. It's not a workable solution for celibate gay Mormons, or at least not past about age 35. (I judge "workable" by the number of people who successfully do it.)

It's no wonder why we see the lion's share of folks going with path #1. The LDS Church just isn't a safe home for them.

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii - The path I've found is less difficult than it looks if you find yourself as sustained by the Spirit as I am.

I too am concerned about the negative impact course #2 has on so many folks. I've been thinking about it a lot -- as have most Moho bloggers -- in the aftermath of yet another gay Mormon suicide. Unfortunately, there's not really an easy way to solve that problem. I thought about blogging on this subject, and the best I could come up with was Sunday's post.

I wish the solution were as simple as to tell people to leave the Church. Obviously, in the case of somebody like Todd, that wasn't the solution either. We need to face and find solutions to the terrible dilemma of faith vs. being.

I know I needed space to cope... Approximately 20 years and 1,500 miles. Even then, there were dangers on the path I trod.

I wish we could be there for each other more effectively, but something about this struggle seems to isolate us from each other...


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this and your previous post, John. Thank you for sharing your hard-won wisdom with us all.

Sean said...

it has been nearly 4 years for me since finally admitting to myself and finally to my wife that I was gay.
it would be silly for me to say it has been the easiest 4 years of my life and sometimes i do wish .... well, i wish many things, but those are outta context with this particular discourse.

Spirituality, LDS, and being gay (ssa for those who prefer that term)has been something that I've been trying to come to grips with sometime.

the single point of strength for me has been my testimony of the Gospel of Christ, Jesus Christ Himself, my testimony of the restoration and my testimony of the Priesthood.

over the past four years I've had an ever increasing problem with the regimentation of the Church's position. however, i understand both sides of this complex coin. Or what i term as container vs. content. Content is the bread of life, however without a delivery system ie. the container there is no where for it to go or to be directed.

setting that particular arguement aside I too have made personal discoveries over the past few years regarding homosexuality, the Gospel, and the Church. and like all things Spiritual they work for me but if seen from a larger perspective are still with in context of the larger picture.

personally, i don't know why people are homosexual. I do feel and know that it is not a mortal choice we make. Whether it was a choice from the pre-existance i just dont know for there is no information to draw upon.

Like John (and I'm sure Bravone as well) I know that I am a beloved Son of God. and that He loves me, all of me including that which others find themselves at odds with.

I agree walking away is one of the options and one which if situations where different one that would probably have taken. my one fear from this particular choice is the anger that some hold onto which causes them to lash out sometimes irrationally.

conformity.... well, i've conformed at first due to denial and now because i choose to for many reasons, not the lest of which is because if my marriage and my children. however my conformity is one of my own making now. it is not without pain but it is not without joy as well.

Again, we all have received answers to our prayers and Heavenly Father has not abandoned us in pain.

i sometimes wonder if members and maybe the world at large have a belief that the gospel culture is some sort of conformist, lock step uniformity.

whereas, i see the Gospel as organic, fluid and dynamic. My answers are not necessarily yours nor yours necessarily mine. but that when viewed through a larger lens are not at odds with each other.

As much as I believe the Gospel of Christ and to large extent the LDS Church as much to offer humans i realize that in this mortal sojourn it is not for everyone, but that doesn't condemn them to outer darkness or some such.

If anything, the Temple has taught me that all has entrance and understanding to the Kingdom of God.

i cannot condemn another's path anymore that it would be fair for them to condemn mine.

(loyalist w/ defects) Sean

J G-W said...

EL - thanks, ego boosts are always welcome!

Sean - Thanks for sharing these very personal reflections. I feel like we're in a similar place with this, even though our situations vary.

Like you, I have found SO much strength and joy these recent years in my testimony. Praying daily, studying the scriptures, attending church, and listening to the Spirit continue to ground me, even when I can't seem to make sense of the conflict between my own experience and what the Church teaches. Or maybe especially in those moments.

GeckoMan said...

I appreciate MHH's rough tri-variate classification of falling 'out or in' with the LDS church if you happen to be gay and LDS. I guess I would have to classify myself as a #2, thanks to my wife and family commitments, although I'm feeling rather non-conformist in so many ways.

We were just speaking of this option #3 the other day, speculating on what impact it would have to the church, if most of these young gay LDS who want to be married or partnered to another gay LDS person, were to do so and still hang on to their fundamental identity as faithful LDS, even if they were excommunicated, yet still choose to regularly attend church as a couple. What ripples this would send throughout the church, putting faces on the LDS gay family that many LDS people refuse to understand or accept because it is faceless.

J G-W said...

Geckoman! I miss your posts, though I'm glad you're still around here somewhere..!

I am very grateful for your unconventional faithfulness. My take on this is that whether the presence of faithful same-sex couples has an impact on the members of the church or not, our faithfulness has an impact on us. We are strengthened and blessed...

Furthermore, God is ultimately in charge of the Church. It's his Church and he will lead and guide it as he sees fit. And it could be that the test for us is to see how much we want truth and reconciliation... How faithful we can be, before the Lord opens up some of these locked gates...?

alan said...

Well, I'm still holding onto the thesis of my paper and that is that this idea of "same-gender attraction as repaired in Heaven" is only propagated because the culture has moved toward a direction of desire within marriage being as important as reproduction. It's clear that church leaders have altered their views on this point over the last 30 years, but they're only moving the church into a more and more precarious position, theoretically-speaking. It has a lot to do with "homosexual" and "heterosexual" as unstable concepts.

I pretty sure the article will be published in Dialogue. After that I plan to distribute it to gay Mormon organizations. It's unfortunate to continue to read accounts of people thinking they'll be "repaired" in Heaven simply because apostles say so, who themselves admit that they only infer this. I'm worried that my article is too "heady," which makes changing discourse difficult, but perhaps once it's out there the ideas within it will be distilled.

J G-W said...

Alan - I remember the days just before the lifting of the priesthood ban on African Americans. When I was 14 years old, in 1977, I was asked by a Methodist friend of mine to come explain the priesthood ban to his Sunday School class.

I didn't know why the Church didn't allow blacks to be ordained to the priesthood!! I asked my dad to explain it to me so I could explain it to my friends. That's when my Dad introduced me to the "fence-sitters-in-Heaven" theory that people of African ("Hamitic") ancestry had somehow been less faithful in the pre-existence.

That theory is not and never has been doctrine, and now I'd dare call it heretical, actually. And Mormons believed it and were telling it to their children in 1977 one year before the priesthood ban ended. And why were they telling it? Because Mormons did not understand and could not understand an antiquated ban on ordination of blacks that had been unceremoniously introduced by Brigham Young in the 1850s, despite the fact that Joseph Smith ordained blacks to the priesthood and never gave any revelation saying they couldn't be ordained. Ironically, I suspect the fence-sitters-in-Heaven theory probably became more popular as black civil rights activists made the Church's stance look increasingly backward. After all, it was only then that Mormons were desperate to find explanations for something that really didn't make sense to anyone.

I wonder if a similar dynamic is at work today in relation to gay people...?

alan said...

That's interesting. Blacks chose to be fence-sitters, which explained their nonacceptance to the priesthood for white Mormons. Blackness itself might be "immutable" right now, but black people still at some point made a choice. Same-gender attraction seems to take a similar framework. Gay people are making a choice to be outside the Church, even if same-gender attraction is not a choice.

All this focus on choice/freewill as a beautiful thing makes my head spin, especially when it's put in service of exclusion.

J G-W said...

Alan - As I recall, most Mormons at the time (at least in the stake where I was living, in Rochester, NY) more or less hated the ban. It didn't make sense to them. When it was finally lifted in 1978, everyone I knew in the Church rejoiced (and was at the very least relieved that they would no longer have to defend the Church against accusations of racism!).

I don't think people were subscribing to this theory in order to feel justified in discriminating. People were trying to explain the Church's stance. There's a huge difference...

I look at what we're facing now in relation to sexual orientation as a similar situation... I think people want to be compassionate. But they also want to be obedient to the teachings of the Church. And the experience of gay people adds challenges to the mix -- it presents data that don't fit into the world view of most Mormons.

I don't claim to have any answers, really. And I think a better position for everybody would be to step away from hard explanations and theories (especially if those explanations and theories posit or project ill will on folks who disagree with them!).

I think if we keep faith with each other, and try to preserve some semblance of faithful community, compassionate and sensible ways forward will open up naturally... It will just take time.

Sean said...

as to whether or not a faithful gay person will be "healed" in the 3rd estate is not really an answer any of us can comment on with solid scripture based doctrine.

inference one way or another is only speculation. and speculation has a tendency to create contention. especially when we espouse only our personal 'hobby horse' doctrines.

if a gay person wishes to believe they will be healed, it is in my opinion, that is their right. we cannot speculate that these individuals are any less than those who choose different paths.

When we force our particular brand of belief we become (whether its through organized religion or our own intelligence) no different than those who fail to see the glory of free agency and choice.
loyalist w/defects

alan said...

I don't think people were subscribing to this theory in order to feel justified in discriminating. People were trying to explain the Church's stance. There's a huge difference...

Yes, sociologist Armand Mauss has shown that Mormons were quicker to "be nice to black people" than other conservative groups during the civil rights era. I would agree that Mormons today are much less spiteful toward gays than evangelicals are, for example. When church leaders say gays will be "repaired in Heaven," this is not out of spite, but a kind of compassion. "You'll be fixed. Isn't that something to look forward to?" In some ways, this aura of inclusion makes things harder, not easier.

I think someone like you breaks down false inferences in the sense that you have a husband and yet you still attend church; when other Mormons interact with you long enough, they eventually view your family as your family and not a series of wrong choices. Your family cannot be "fixed"; such a suggestion can only be insulting, not compassionate. (I read an account in a recent LDS book for therapists in which the editor who was once a bishop did express that his same-sex married friend and his husband might have made the "right" choices years ago had they known the "true science" of sexual orientation. Do you ever wonder if church members try to imagine you having made different "choices?" Or do most of them know your story?)

I don't think the essay I wrote has hard theories that put Mormons and their leaders in a corner. I've only laid out what has been said by leaders and therapists and did a discourse analysis. Someone has to do this contextualizing work. I agree that things will probably work out someday through faithful interaction, but how many generations will that take? I'm sure there are ways to move things along...