Monday, August 30, 2010

What Would A Real Gay Mormon Organization Look Like?

In my last post, I discussed why none of the existing gay Mormon organizations really met my needs as a gay man and as a person of faith. I, in fact, expressed doubt as to whether any gay Mormon organization could meet the needs of any gay person, given the challenges of reconciling the physical and the spiritual aspects of existence as gay people experience them in a Mormon context. Because of the Church's bifurcating views on homosexuality, it seems we must either deny our gayness or abandon our membership in the Latter-day Church. And no organization can possibly "fix" that.

The appropriate arena for struggle over these issues, I concluded, is the Church. It is in the Church -- and not anywhere else, in any para-Church or other organization -- where these painful issues related to the relationship between body and spirit must be struggled with and it is in the Church where we must seek the revelation or the resolve (or both) needed to help us move forward.

While a lot of folks shared their views on this on-line, I feel it is worth adding that there were some stories shared privately with me that were heart-breaking. Folks shared some stories of abuse on the part of members and chapters of Affirmation, as well as on the part of Northstar. It's important to acknowledge that every organization that's big enough and has had enough history is going to have some individual bad apples. So those anecdotes do not necessarily in and of themselves reflect on the organizations as a whole. But the stories that were shared with me confirmed my general impressions regarding the ways in which different organizations fail to meet the needs of the whole person. Some folks strongly encouraged me to consider forming a new organization that does chart an actual middle path, that does take both our sexuality and our spirituality seriously; that doesn't deny or distort one side or the other; that acknowledges the reality that sexuality includes aspects of spirituality in it; that true spirituality embraces our sexual selves and incorporates our sexual selves into the totality of who we are.

I'm not saying I will or should try to form a "fourth wing" of the family of gay Mormon organizations. But I guess enough people, both publicly and privately, have expressed the sense that we need something to make me at least ask the question, what would such an organization look like?

(Bravone assured me in his last post that Northstar is working on some initiatives that he believes will meet the needs I've described here. If that is the case, then perhaps the following reflections can be of use to the Northstar leadership in considering how they will attempt to address some of these challenges.)

So, first I'll list what I think such an organization must do.

1) It must exclude no one on the basis of relationship status. Let's acknowledge that all gay people have spiritual needs, regardless of whether they are in a mixed-orientation marriage, single, or in a same-sex relationship; whether we have committed to a life of celibacy, or whether we are looking for a life companion (either same-sex or other). Haven't we all experienced enough humiliation, exclusion and loneliness for several life-times? Don't we all deserve the blessings of loving fellowship regardless of what our relationship status is?

The next one is kind of corollary...

2) It will listen to what people need spiritually, and help them meet those needs. This is a basic spiritual principle. Jesus said (I'm paraphrasing the King James), "If a child shall ask bread of any of you that is a parent, will you give a stone? or if a child ask a fish, will you for a fish give a serpent?" We get into trouble when we tell people what we think they need, and then we exclude them when they don't agree with us.

That leads to the next corollary....

3) It will acknowledge that any efforts at spiritual self-improvement are valuable, and it will support individuals in their quest to spiritually self-improve. Regardless of your relationship status, such an organization would acknowledge that encouraging people to pray, to read the scriptures, to live the Word of Wisdom, to attend Church and participate in Church fellowship as much as possible are all good things. It will find creative ways to strengthen individuals in such efforts at spiritual self-improvement.

In other words...

4) It will seek to foster a vibrant relationship with God and an attentiveness to the promptings of the Spirit. We would hold up as a standard of personal spirituality, the living of a life in harmony with one's conscience, such that one is capable of hearing and responding to the promptings of the still, small voice of the Spirit.

Despite the emphasis on seeking personal guidance and revelation, there should, however, be no mistaking that

5) It will refrain from theological speculation or criticism of the Church or Church leaders. While study of the scriptures and wrestling with difficult social and theological issues is a normal and expected part of any dynamic spiritual community, we should always respect the preeminence, at least within the LDS faith, of revelation as the basis for spiritual life. The goal of a communion like this would never be to replace church teachings with doctrines of our own fashioning. From an LDS perspective, I believe, this could only serve to cut us off from God and quench the wellsprings of true revelation.

The next one is corollary...

6) It will not attempt to replace Church sacraments or bypass recognized priesthood authority in the performance of such. This may be a para-Church organization, but it should never become a para-Church.

In other words...

7) It will foster a vibrant, positive relationship with the Church, at whatever level individuals are willing or able to remain in relationship with the Church. It will always have the fostering of healthy communion within the Church as its highest goal.


I'm inspired by Mosiah 21: 34-35 in envisioning what such a community might look like, at least for someone in my situation:
Therefore they did not at that time form themselves into a church, waiting upon the Spirit of the Lord.... They were desirous to be baptized as a witness and a testimony that they were willing to serve God with all their hearts; nevertheless they did prolong the time....

I think participation in such a community would require spiritual discipline. It would require setting aside defensiveness. It would require the ability to forgive both real and imagined wrongs. It would require humility.

The goal would be to promote love as the highest principle of Christian community.

What do you think?

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Gay Mormon Organizations

Right now there are three major organizations for GLBT Mormons. The first, historically, to come into existence was Affirmation (in the 1970s). About a decade later Evergreen came along. Most recently, there's Northstar (Ty Mansfield's brainchild). These three organizations -- obviously -- have fundamentally different approaches to how to solve the dilemmas faced by GLBT Saints. But none of these organizations satisfactorily does what it has set out to do, because the task is extremely complicated. The approaches are bifurcated because the Church's views on homosexuality bifurcate us -- because the Church essentially forces us to choose between our sexuality and our spirituality, a choice that we as physical-spiritual beings naturally recoil from. To force us to choose between whether we are permitted to establish loving and intimate relationships with the person of our choice, or whether we are permitted to have a full life in spiritual community where other Saints nurture us in our efforts to become more Christ-like, is to force us to make a choice that one way or the other does violence to our souls.

I do not feel that any of these three organizations provide the kinds of support I need as a fully human, fully physical, fully spiritual being. And let me stress here, this is not their fault as organizations. Each does the best it can in its own way to provide support to GLBT Saints. But the nature of the dilemma faced means that it's easier for an organization to focus on one side or the other of the equation. So Affirmation does a great job -- better than the other two -- of affirming us as physical/sexual beings, and exploring and understanding what it means to be gay. But in order to do that, it has had to take positions that have put it at odds with the mainstream LDS Church.

Evergreen came into existence a few years after Affirmation, and Northstar has, of course, come into existence only in the last few years as a third "middle path" between Affirmation and Evergreen. If Evergreen and Northstar exist at all, it is because they were trying to support GLBT Saints in what Affirmation could not. GLBT Saints turned to them, because they also hungered for spiritual connection within the spiritual community of our choice -- the Church -- and we were willing to do almost anything for that connection, even try to stifle a side of ourselves that ultimately cannot and should not be stifled. And these two organizations have done a better job of affirming faith. But they have done it, by and large, at the expense of our physical/sexual sides.

Whole human beings need both. Both physical and spiritual. As Latter-day Saints, we understand that this is the sum and purpose of our existence on earth in the first place. To bring together, to fully integrate, those two things.

Of the three organizations, the one I feel at some gut level the most affinity to has been Northstar. Northstar has moved toward integration in a way that the other two organizations have not. (Dare I say, because of their histories, could not?) Northstar acknowledges the reality of the physical/sexual side of the equation. It has at least acknowledged that our "gay side" doesn't just go away -- in this life any way. It's worked to be a little bit more open to that side of us. And it has held up as all important the preservation of faith-based covenants and community. And it has been working very hard to educate straight Saints about some of the dilemmas faced by gay Saints, to help ensure that wards and stakes in the Church can start to become more nurturing places (and because of the way it has positioned itself, stands a better chance of succeeding in those educational efforts).

I felt like a door was open there to me for a while... But I've felt that door slowly closing. After several years of hanging on the fringes of the Northstar community, I realize that Northstar won't really go the distance with me. I don't think this is the fault of any individual in the Northstar organization. I love and have profound admiration for Ty and for Bravone, who are the two folks with Northstar that I've had the closest relationships with. But I'm aware of an invisible barrier there. The organization could more fully embrace me if only I demolished my family. That's the bottom line. And they didn't draw that line... It exists whether they like it or not. They just have to try to cope with it.

I could try to form a fourth organization, one that's a bit to the left of Northstar and somewhere to the right of Affirmation. But why? An organization in which I would feel fully embraced and comfortable would still have the problem of not being able to fully integrate us as physical/sexual beings into the spiritual life of the Church. That's what I hunger for. That's what I desire more than anything else. I could not form an organization that would meet my needs. So I think I'm destined to be a lone pilgrim in the desert of physical/sexual vs. spiritual alienation.

I will continue to participate as actively as I can both in Affirmation and, if permitted, Northstar. But if what I really needed in a gay Mormon organization could exist, then we probably wouldn't need any organization at all, other than the Church.

Monday, August 23, 2010


This weekend was a crazy jumble of intense emotions, as we moved Glen into his college dorm.

Saturday, we went with a couple from my ward (Bro. & Sis. C.) on a grand bike hike from our South Minneapolis neighborhood to downtown Stillwater, MN, on the Wisconsin border. We biked a total of about 60 miles in one day, and it gave us all a great sense of achievement. Maybe a metaphor of the journey we've gone as a foster family, literally with its ups and downs, struggle, sweat, fun and laughter. The day as a whole was relaxing and pleasant, and a great diversion from the impending move.

But then came the next day. The move was painful. Göran and I did not do so well emotionally. One of the emotions that surprised me was anger. Göran wanted more time. He wanted so desperately to jam a life time of family-ness into these three all-too-short years. He didn't want Glen to be all grown up now and leaving our home already.

Even though we moved everything in, Glen spent last night here at home... Tonight is the first night when it will be just me and Göran in the house by ourselves again. I know it's not forever. I peeked in Glen's room. His Harry Potter and other books are still there, half his clothes still hanging in his closet, lots of stuff still sitting on his shelves and on his desk. It's still his room. He'll be spending the night here from time to time, for holidays and what not. Still, I've been weeping on and off all day, every time I hug him. This was harder than I thought it would be.

Göran wrote him a beautiful letter early this morning. After Glen had read it, I hugged him and the tears were flowing freely. He said, "I'll be a part of your family until the day I die."

"And beyond," I replied.

That assurance came from somewhere very deep. I know it's true.

But here's the thing... I was just reminded by one of my periodic fans that my relationships will "end when I die." Odd how the revelations the prophet Joseph received that have given hope to so many millions of Latter-day Saints that families can be "forever" would be turned by a person supposedly of faith into this form of denial.

But how would I love my foster son or my spouse any differently assuming our relationships ended at death? Should I love them less? Should I be like the mother that Carol Lynn Pearson describes in her book No More Goodbyes, who says of her gay son that it doesn't really pay to invest in her relationship with him any more because he won't be part of their family in the next life? Really? Is that how I should treat people?

No, I act as if every relationship is eternal. I act knowing that any given person I'm interacting with is an eternal being, with eternal potential. I honor them, and I cherish our relationship as a gift that is not to be squandered, because its value is eternal.

I've struggled with my family. I've struggled to teach, to love, to provide. We have wept often together. Today, our social worker remarked that she rarely had seen even in biological families such a tenacious commitment as what she had witnessed in me and Göran to work through the difficulties, to be hard-working, conscientious parents. She said, "Some families, if they had had the struggles you've had, would step back, give up, and distance themselves. But you never did that."

There's a reason for that. It's that I have treated every day of our life together as if it were one more day in a relationship that is eternal. When problems come along, when there's pain and struggle, I'm committed to work through it, even if it takes a life-time, because I know that there's more around the bend. I'm working to build something for beyond this life. They say, "Live every day as if it were your last." But I would add, treat every relationship as if it were eternal.

From that tenacious love, we've reaped rewards that are very much with me even as I write this. I don't have to wait till the next life to know the blessedness of having loved this boy as if he were our own flesh and blood, as if he were sealed to us under the most solemn rites in the world's most sacred place. Right now, that love is a warmth that fills every corner of my soul. And I know it will warm me till the day I die.

And beyond.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Eighteen Years Together

I think today on our eighteenth anniversary it's OK for me to acknowledge that there are lots of reasons why my relationship with my husband might never have materialized, or why it might never have lasted.

  • My internalized homophobia.  (And the low self-esteem that comes with it.  The belief that someone like me doesn't deserve happiness in a long-term relationship.)
  • Racism.  (Interracial relationships seem more common in the gay community...  Can the experience of homophobia help us "get it"?  But we're still learning how deep this challenge runs...)
  • Religion.  (Do I need to comment on this one?  Why am I still having to fight for the right to marry the person I love?)
  • There are so few gay people in the world.  (Our marriage pool is about ten to twenty times smaller than it is for straight people!)
  • The culture of promiscuity in the community where we met.  (As if the gay marriage pool isn't already too small, it makes it even smaller when you subtract the folks who have given up looking for Mr. Right in favor of Mr. Right-Now.)
  • The pervasive assumption that relationships like ours just can't last.  (When we reconnect with friends from a long time ago: "Oh, you two are still together!  Wow!")
  • Family members who don't treat the most important person in your life like family.  (Thank God our immediate family members got over this early in our relationship.)
  • Economic stress, communication issues, trust issues, etc.  (Yes, of course we get to struggle with all the stuff that conventional straight couples struggle with too.)
  • Fear.  Yes, it's the opposite of love (not hate).

OK, so I should also celebrate all the things that have conspired to bring (and keep!) us together!

  • Just plain, dumb, luck.  I simply don't believe relationships are predestined.  Heck, nothing about anything in this world is predestined.  Children don't starve to death because they're predestined.  And people are certainly not predestined to be alone.  But if that's true, then I have to acknowledge that I am just plain lucky -- I was in the right place at the right time and somehow in spite of myself managed to meet the most incredible man and have him see something in me.  I still just so often wonder, why me?
  • Passion.  I still cry when I see him dance.  He's so incredibly beautiful.  I wish I could dance like that!
  •  Mystery.  Ultimately, I think, you decide to make your life with someone because another human being is a mystery to you, and you see something in that person that makes you feel the mystery is worth sticking around long enough to solve.  Hint: the mystery just keeps getting deeper!
  • He was there for me when I needed him, and I was there for him when he needed me.  Sometimes (not always) the storms of life bring us closer together.  Sometimes when the world turns against you, you have no choice but to turn to each other.  Somehow we remembered that even when we thought our heads were going to pop from all the stress, we needed to muster enough calm to help shelter the other.
  • Somehow our love outgrew our selfishness and our fear.  There are a lot of selfish, fearful reasons we get into relationships.  But somehow, eventually, you discover the other, and you realize that the best thing you can possibly do for yourself is to give him something worthwhile.
  • Forgiveness.  If you live with someone long enough, you will eventually fail the one person in the world you never ought to fail.  Sometimes those failures can be epic.  It takes courage to recognize what you've done and try to set things right, but it takes even more courage to forgive.

It's been worth it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Feast upon the Words of Christ

Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31: 20)
These words from Nephi's discussion of "the Doctrine of Christ" are frequently quoted in Sacrament Meeting as a proof text for the importance of studying the scriptures.  And certainly, the "word of Christ" as defined in this text is inclusive of the scriptures.  But to stop there is not nearly as radical as what Nephi is actually saying here.

Continuing from the discussion of the Doctrine of Christ in chapter 31, Nephi begins chapter 32 by posing a question he believes will naturally occur to his readers.  "I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way" (v. 1).  So I've entered into the way of Christ.  So I am a Christian.  Now what do I do?

Nephi answers his own question by reminding readers of what he had earlier said about the gifts of the Spirit that are bestowed upon those who have entered into the way.  "Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?" (v. 2)  OK, so Nephi here stresses: You have received the Holy Ghost.  You can now speak with the tongue of angels.  You.

So now comes one of the most shocking statements made in all of scripture: "Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do." (v. 3)  OK, so follow the logic here.  You can speak with the tongue of angels.  Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, wherefore they speak the words of Christ.  If you can speak with the tongue of angels, then you too can speak the words of Christ.  Wherefore feast upon the words of Christ, for behold the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.

So Nephi is not here telling us that we need to get our answers out of a book.  Nor do we need someone else to tell us "what we should do."  We have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit.  That is all we need in order to know what to do.

Nephi continues to stress this radical concept of spiritual self-reliance in verse 4: "Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark."  In other words, if you don't know what to do, it's because you haven't bothered to ask.  You have entered into the way of Christ, so you are entitled to the gifts of the Spirit and you have a responsibility to learn Christ's word to you individually.  And when you've learned it, it will be no less scripture to you than any other word of Christ.

Nephi restates it again, as plainly as it is possible to state it (since he "delights in plainness!"): "For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do" (v. 5).  All things what ye should do!

Following Nephi's conclusion of this discussion of the Doctrine of Christ, Nephi "mourns" because of the "unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men": "for they will not seek knowledge" (v. 7).  The Holy Spirit, he continues, "teacheth a man to pray" (v. 8).  Only the evil spirit will teach a man not to pray, not to turn directly to God for wisdom.  "Pray always, and not faint," Nephi concludes (v. 9).

This is radical, powerful stuff.  We enter into the way of Christ by opening our hearts to God, and with real intent, committing ourselves to turn away from sin.  No one but God is the judge of our hearts, so there is no one who can ultimately know if we have entered into the way of Christ but ourselves and God.  But if our intent is to do right, if our true desire is to align ourselves with God, that is all we need.  And that intent, that desire, unlocks the riches of the Spirit, literally the word of Christ upon which we can feast, in order to know what we need to do in life, how best to move forward.

Is there a gospel that is better tailored to the anguish and heart-break that gay Latter-day Saints face than this?  Isn't our central problem that our fellow Saints judge us, without knowing our pain, without having any idea what our life experience and desires and needs are, without knowing our hearts?  But God knows, and Nephi teaches that God is the only one who needs to know.  Opening our hearts to God is the only gate.

And faced with the anguish of judgment and exclusion, our most painful dilemma is no different from that of any believer in the world, paraphrased by Nephi here as the problem of "what do we do?"  Where do we go from here?  Again, Nephi says, if we have entered in by the gate, if we have bared our souls to God, we have a right to turn to God for solace and help and wisdom, and we can and will learn "all things" that we should do.

We should be restless in our determination to get the answers we need.  We can't afford to wait for others to "get it."  We can't afford to wait for a General Authority to give us some revelation that will help us move forward.  If we do, Nephi says, we "must perish in the dark" (v. 4).  We would perish in any event because already we have failed to understand that the word of Christ comes to us not from outside of us, not as a result of the work that someone else does for us, but only as a result of the work that we must do for ourselves, for our own lives and our own salvation.  If we will not search for knowledge, we are already in darkness that we cannot be saved from, no matter what revelations are received by anybody else on our behalf.

If there's anybody in the world who needs this gospel today, it is we gay Saints.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Doctrine of Christ

I do have this experience from time to time of going to Church, and just feeling this incredible sadness.  I don't know how to describe it other than "outsiderness."  It's like going to a great big party where everyone else is having a great time, dancing, singing and laughing.  And you're all alone sitting in the corner watching it all go on.  But nobody's talking to you, and so you feel like a super, mega alien outsider.  I had to wrestle with some of these feelings this past Sunday.  After Church was our ward's "Linger Longer," where folks hang out after Church and eat yummy snacks and chat and have a good time.  And I basically kind of just felt sick to my stomach and needed to leave.  I really needed to be with my husband, to be held by him.  So that's what I did.

Now don't get me wrong....  My ward is without a doubt the best ward in the Church.  The people are fantastic.  Last Sunday, Bro. S., a particularly close friend of mine, sang a solo: "Because I Have Been Given Much."  He doesn't have the most fantastic voice.  (Sorry, E., if you're reading this!!!)  But the song was this most incredible gift, because I know what kind of person he is, and how profound his testimony is, and I know how much he meant every single word that he sang.  And later on, he came and sat down next to me and hugged me (like he always does!), and he committed to "hang" with me some time this week.  And it wouldn't be possible for me to feel a deeper sense of brotherhood, or feel more loved or empathized with than I do by this brother.  And I have a half dozen or so other friends in the ward to whom I feel equally close.  Sis. G., my Sunday School teacher, and her husband Bro. H., and my old friend who goes back to BYU days Sis. J.  And every member of my elders' quorum presidency, and Bro. and Sis. C. (with whom we have a weekend bike trip planned for this Saturday!), and my home teachers.  I feel truly loved, unconditionally and deeply.  And even the folks in the ward who used to treat me like I was radioactive seem to have gotten over that.  One of those sisters greeted me on Sunday with the kindest greeting.  Nobody in my ward is doing anything wrong.  They are living the gospel 100%, humbly and sincerely and with the pure love of Christ.

So my occasional bouts of outsider flu have nothing to do with how the members of my ward treat me, and more to do with my status as an excommunicate, who happens to be in a marriage that the LDS leadership is, as of this moment, fighting tooth and claw to ban legally.

When I feel that kind of sadness and pain, there's only one place I can go, and that is to God himself.  That's where I find comfort.  And sometimes I pray about it, and the Spirit simply tells me, "Wait.  Be patient."  Meaning, this pain is kind of like stubbing your toe.  There's really nothing to do but wait for it to subside, and in the mean time, be kind to yourself and be kind to others and let the pain remind you about the importance of forgiveness and charity.  And eventually, when you've been still and quieted the distressed feelings long enough and just waited on the Lord long enough, the Spirit eventually opens things up to you and gives you the reassurance that you need and the answer to the questions that are pressing so deeply on your mind and heart.

So this morning, I was reading 1 Nephi 31, on the "Doctrine of Christ."  This is an incredibly profound text.  Perhaps one of the most profound in all of scripture.  And Nephi prefaces it by saying, in essence, "There are tons of things I could tell, but I only have enough time and space to tell you a few really important things.  So let me share with you the Doctrine of Christ" (my paraphrase of verses 1-2).  What a gem we have, thanks to Nephi's desire to share with his readers the one important thing they need to understand!

In verse 3, Nephi talks about how the Lord teaches us each individually and directly and personally.  "For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding."  In other words, there's no way to misunderstand when the Lord teaches us, because he knows exactly how to communicate to us in a way that we are capable of understanding, whatever level we're at.  That is a comforting way to start, but it also suggests that what he was about to impart is something that we can't fully understand without the Spirit itself teaching us and explaining things "to our understanding."

Now what jumped out at me today as I read this was the way that Nephi stresses intention as a concomitant of the type of faith that leads to eternal life.  "Save ye shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father..." (v. 10); "with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent" (v. 13); "[witnessing]... that ye are willing to keep my commandments" (v. 14).  What further jumped out at me was the stress on the directness of the individual relationship with God.  In the Doctrine of Christ, intent of the heart is crucial.  And there is only one who knows our hearts, who knows what our true intent is, and that is God.  So I particularly noticed that Nephi states the Doctrine in a way that makes it clear that this is a matter between us and God alone.  "Acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God... witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ" (v. 13).

OK, this is critical.  Because when we are baptized into the Church, we go through an interview process where the Bishop determines what our intent is, and determines whether we are worthy to receive baptism.  The Bishop has an obligation to do this from the viewpoint of administering the ordinances of the Church.  But the requirement is "witnessing unto the Father."  When we enter into baptism, we are entering into a covenant, not with the Bishop, not even with the apostles or the Prophet, but with God.  It is our intent before God that matters if we wish to enter in "by the gate" into the "strait and narrow path" (v. 18).  We could perhaps fool the Bishop about our intent, but we cannot fool God.  And to enter in by any other gate than by true intent witnessed unto God is some other path than the strait and narrow one.  So it is possible to be physically baptized in this world after the manner of the flesh, but to have missed the gate completely.  That's why baptism for the dead doesn't actually baptize anybody unless that person on the other side of the veil enters in by the gate.

OK, now what really gets interesting is when you study the wording Nephi uses to describe the relationship between baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the subsequent path to salvation and eternal life.  In each instance in this chapter where Nephi discusses baptism, he stresses willingness to be baptized, and intent to repent of one's sins and obey the commandments of God:

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel. (verse 13)
If your intent is true and pure "then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost."

Now this reminds me of the story of Cornelius and his family.  In this situation, described in Acts 10, there was real doubt among Church leaders as to whether Gentiles could be baptized without first submitting to the Mosaic Law.  And when Peter visited the house of Cornelius and saw the outpouring of the Spirit, and saw that these unbaptized Gentiles had the Holy Spirit just like members of the Church, then he exclaimed, "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" (Acts 10: 47).  Well, apparently men could forbid water.  But God had ratified the conversion of Cornelius and his family even though the Church had not, and even though there were serious doubts in the minds of most Church leaders and members of the Church at that time as to whether it were possible for Gentiles to be members of the Church without first submitting to the Mosaic Law.

A couple of years ago, I read Preach My Gospel because our Stake President asked every member of the Stake to read and study it.  I remember being struck by the fact that anyone who had ever been involved in a homosexual relationship had to be referred to the mission president (pp. 207-208) before they could be approved for baptism.  In fact, I was aware at the time that in order for someone like me to be baptized, it would eventually require first presidency approval.  So there are serious doubts in the minds of Church leaders and members alike that someone like me could ever be a member of the Church.

Yet, the Spirit spoke to me in terms that I could not misunderstand in August 2005, and I have striven to obey every single commandment that the Spirit has pressed upon me.  Under the influence of the Spirit I've taken steps in my life to come closer to God... through prayer, through scripture study, through Church attendance, through living the Word of Wisdom, through eliminating pornography and impure thoughts from my life and strengthening my relationship with my husband, getting married (!), and so on.  And each time I've done that, I've experienced an outpouring of spiritual gifts and assurances.  I've never in my life felt closer to God than I do now, even when I was a baptized member of the Church.  And I'm convinced that I receive an extra outpouring of the Spirit because I get no such encouragement from anybody else, either within or without the Church.  The Spirit makes up for the lack of support networks and support structures that I might otherwise receive.

I had always marveled about that.  I've asked myself privately (and publicly, in some other posts on this blog) how it could be possible that I experience such a vibrant presence of the Spirit in my life, helping me to become a more patient, kind, loving and faithful person, when I haven't been baptized.  But I've learned from Nephi's explanation of the Doctrine of Christ that I've met the requirement.  I've witnessed my desire to be baptized to two bishops now, but more importantly I've witnessed it to the Father.  That purity of intent witnessed to the Father is the gate.  I have no control over how Church leaders or members or anybody responds to me.  I have no control over whether they believe that I am worthy or a good person or whether they think I belong to the Kingdom of God.  I can't control their beliefs or their actions or Church policy.  I can only do my part.  And the scripture promises that if I do, I will receive the "baptism of fire" (v. 14).

Of course, the gate is just that.  It's the gate, the entrance, only the beginning.  But Nephi's further explanation of the Doctrine of Christ I find equally comforting.  For he says, "Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and all men.  Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ and endure to the end, behold, saith the Father, ye shall have eternal life....  This is the way....  This is the doctrine of Christ" (vs. 20-21).

There's nobody, nothing, no institution that can withhold these things from me or anybody else.  No one can ultimately take away a perfect brightness of hope that is born of pure intent witnessed to God.  Someone else's erroneous judgment of my heart, of my true intent, doesn't enter into the picture here.  Were baptism offered to me, I would willingly take it.  (You have no idea how willingly!  It kills me when heterosexual members waffle about their Church membership, and take it for granted as if it is nothing of great consequence.)  But I am not offered such an opportunity, so my intent, my desire must stand for the actual thing in this time and place.

So I find comfort in the sense that, connected to God as I am, there can be no true otherness, no true outsiderness.  Others can only make outsiders of themselves (or I could make an outsider of myself) by treating their brothers or sisters as outsiders.  I am grateful that members of my ward live the Doctrine of Christ by treating me with love.  I am grateful that, when I pay a little too much attention to outward status and experience the pain of outsiderness, the Lord teaches me lessons of love and patience and always comforts me with reassurances that are tailored to my needs, my language, my understanding.

Some day the inner, spiritual world will be reflected in the outer, physical world.  Until then, we can only press forward...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Church, Priesthood, and the Gay/Lesbian Journey toward Spiritual Maturity

Here's a copy of the talk I presented at the Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake, on August 7, 2010.  This is really kind of a distillation of my understanding of the challenges faced by gay and lesbian Saints at this time in history.  An audio recording of the entire session, including the questions and answers, should be available at the Sunstone web site. 

The parenthetical scripture citations are offered not as proof texts, but as illustrations and expansions.
On Spiritual Maturity
Scripture references the notion of spiritual maturity in the Pauline teaching that there is spiritual milk available to those who are not ready to digest spiritual meat (1 Corinthians 3: 2). There's also the story of the City of Enoch in the Book of Moses, where an entire people became so spiritually mature that the boundaries between earth and heaven were no longer meaningful, and they were taken up into Heaven (Moses 7). There's the account of primitive Christianity in the Book of Acts, where members of the Church had all things in common and there were no poor among them (Acts 4: 22). There's the Book of Mormon description of 200 years of peace following the establishment of the Church by Christ (3 Nephi 26: 19; 4 Nephi 1). There's the early Church's striving to establish the United Order, and its failure (D&C section 119).

Spiritual maturity, as scripturally defined, implies a certain readiness to accept “hard teachings.” The teachings are hard because they require willingness to sacrifice for a larger good. D&C section 121 describes the kind of spiritual maturity required in order exercise the priesthood as comprising an understanding that
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile (vss. 41-42)
In other words, spiritual maturity implies a commitment to labor in the service of others without seeking to aggrandize oneself.

These are the characteristics of godhood. In the Gospels, in Pauline texts, and in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, Christ is the model of spiritual maturity. Among other Christ-like traits that are considered hallmarks of spiritual maturity are trust in and submission to the will of God, and pure love.

Spiritual immaturity is also described in Scripture. It includes, among other things, a legalistic mentality that insists on outward rules and observances, on being told exactly what is right and what is wrong (Mosiah 13:29-30). It includes a failure to understand the difference between legalism and obedience to God (Mark 2: 24-28). It includes a desire to be “compelled in all things” (D&C 58:26). It includes an unwillingness to go to the Lord and ask when we need answers to difficult questions. When Laman and Lemuel complained that they could not understand the teachings of their father, Nephi asked them, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” And they answered, “We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15: 7-9). This is why wickedness is so often described in scripture as a state of insensitivity, of “blindness” or “deafness” (for example, Matthew 13:15 or 2 Nephi 9: 31-32). It is an unwillingness to be awake, to be aware, to be spiritually alive, to be sensitive to the needs of those around us, to bring our questions to the Lord, to listen, and to act in response to what we hear.

There is a paradox defining the boundary between spiritual immaturity and spiritual maturity. The spiritually immature do good because they expect to be rewarded. The way this is most commonly formulated in Mormonism is in the obedience/blessings trope. We emphasize how we will be blessed when we obey the Lord. But to the spiritually mature, to “those who have ears to hear,” Christ taught, “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (Luke 17:33). Somehow spiritual maturity involves freeing oneself of concern with rewards or even with self-preservation, and instead understanding the role that one has to play in accomplishing some larger good, and committing oneself to play that role regardless of the personal cost. I imagine that as a commitment to good for good's sake. I see that as the kind of concern God has for us, since the love of God involved God in going below all creation and in dying for creation, out of love for creation. So to become god-like is to involve ourselves in that type of commitment, that type of love.

Finally, I think a scriptural understanding of spiritual maturity includes the notion that it is not something we can judge from outward appearances. (See 1 Samuel 16: 7; Isaiah 11: 3-4 / 2 Nephi 21: 3-4; 2 Corinthians 10: 7; Matthew 23: 27-28). It is simply not something that we can judge at all, either in ourself or in others. We are not the judge of us. Spiritual maturity is an interior state which ultimately God alone can see and judge. Sometimes true spiritual maturity will look immature to others; it may require us to act in ways that others will judge harshly. To the spiritually mature, this shouldn't matter, because in the spiritually mature soul, the outward appearance of the self and the worldly loss or gain that comes from appearing righteous should not rate as highly as virtues like submission to God, and the service and love that flow from such submission.

The path to spiritual maturity requires humility because we currently dwell in a probationary sphere in which our knowledge is imperfect (1 Corinthians 13: 12), where “there must needs be opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 1: 11), where we define ourselves by making choices, by “acting and being acted upon” (v. 14). Jacob, in the book of 2 Nephi, describes the resurrection as a state “like unto us in the flesh, save it be that our knowledge shall be perfect” (9: 13). In that state of perfect knowledge, the full, true nature of all our choices will be revealed to us, making it painfully clear to us the extent to which we acted out of love or to which we failed to love. That is when some will “shrink with awful fear” as they “remember [their] awful guilt in perfectness” (2 Nephi 9: 46). That is when Christ will remind the goats, “I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not” (Matthew 25: 42-43).

Church and Priesthood
The Church plays a central if complex role in the cultivation of spiritual maturity. For the spiritually immature, the Church plays the role of lawgiver and a schoolmaster (Galatians 3: 24-25). It teaches us patterns of knowing and behaving that prepare us for ever fuller, more complete expressions of submission and love. As we grow more spiritually mature, the Church becomes the primary vehicle through which we realize Zion, the pure in heart. Because submission and love are the hallmarks of spiritual maturity, there never comes a point where we grow beyond the need for the Church. Like Christ, we eventually become willing to give our lives for the Church, for the benefit of our sisters and brothers (Ephesians 5:25).

The Church is imperfect in the sense that it is composed of individual members in varying degrees of spiritual maturity who are all still working out our salvation. The Church is also imperfect in the sense that collectively it can lack important knowledge or fail significant tests of submission or love or both. The process by which the Church is perfected is a historical process in which God is the primary actor (Jacob 5). Throughout history both the leaders and members of the Church have at different times had to be held accountable by the Lord for their failures to model the perfect submission and love that Christ modeled. (See, for example, D&C section 3.) The Church is chastised when it falls into pride, and prospers when it humbles itself and more perfectly expresses divine love. God's insistence on keeping us collectively accountable is, I think, the central significance of priesthood covenants.

The Church is perfect in the sense that it is designed to teach each of us the lessons that each of us need to learn (1 Corinthians 12: 12-31). Since a central role of the Church is to teach us humility, love and mutual submission, the ultimate goal of which is to create the perfect expression of the love of God here on earth, the imperfections of its individual members actually help it to fulfill that role. The Church also holds the keys of the priesthood (D&C 27: 5-18; D&C 132: 7). Honoring those keys and the Lord's anointed who hold them is an important test of our humility and our faith. The Church is also perfect in the sense that it is redeemed by Christ (Ephesians 5: 25), and Jesus Christ is at its helm (D&C 115: 4). So long as we listen to the Spirit and trust God as the head of the Church, the Church will come to embody the perfect love and submission that God intends for it to embody (D&C 88: 1-6).

A spiritually immature understanding of the role of the Church and priesthood, I believe, insists on a kind of assurance, on a kind of premature knowledge that denies the possibility of collective error or lack of knowledge. Ironically, spiritual immaturity is implicated both in an insistence on an infallible priesthood hierarchy, and in the insistence that if we find any error at all in the Church, it must mean that the Church is false. The spiritually mature accept the need for faith as a prerequisite for ultimate assurance. They accept error as a natural and expected constituent of the human condition, and commit to foster growth both personally and collectively. And they won't abandon the covenant or fail in trust that God can save us, on account of human failings.

This wrestling with the problem of human error, and the doubts it can raise about the truthfulness of the Gospel or the Church or our salvation is related to a more fundamental problem in the journey toward spiritual maturity. At it's root, it is the classic problem framed in a Latter-day Saint context as faith versus knowledge. At its rawest, most existential level this becomes the question: How can I know that I am saved? Do I rely on what Church leaders and parents and others tell me? Or do I trust my own instincts, listen to my heart? Can God show me the way? Wrestling with these questions is at the foundation of every great religion, from Abraham's wanderings, to Moses' exile, to the Buddha's quest for Enlightenment, to Mohammed's refuge in a cave of Mount Hira, to Martin Luther's anguished search for God's love, to Joseph's prayer in the sacred grove.

The Gay/Lesbian Journey
Gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints are no different from anyone in needing to wrestle with the grand problems of knowledge and human fallibility, though our journeys are uniquely shaped by the specifics of our sexuality and of the cultures we live in. Generations of gay Saints grew up being taught that their hunger to connect with a person of the same-sex was a sign of moral depravity. Because the hunger for love and intimacy is so profound and so deeply rooted in us, in every aspect of us that matters, in spirit, mind and body, it is impossible to hate that part of ourselves without hating ourselves. And it is normal to grow up trusting what parents, teachers and leaders say over ourselves, our own instincts. So our trust in spiritual authority can easily become imbricated in self-hate, and it creates a profound conflict that some find it impossible to resolve any other way than through suicide or other forms of self-destruction.

If we survive this profound crisis, it is because we gradually achieve a level of self-knowledge, of trust in ourselves, that permits us to begin to grapple more maturely with the great existential problems. The interrelatedness of sexuality, sociality, emotionality, spirituality and physicality, incidentally, is the reason the current distinction between same-sex orientation or “attraction” and same-sex “behavior” (i.e. “acting on our attractions”) doesn't really solve the fundamental problem created by associating same-sex sexuality with moral depravity. Our sexuality is related to our capacity to connect intimately and non-sexually, to our senses and sensitivities, to our ways of perceiving and experiencing a broad range of social relationships. We can be told that it isn't connected to our identity, but that is not how we experience it. This is why healthy self-love as a gay man or lesbian requires that we embrace our gayness, not reject it as an affliction or as a mortal “condition.” This is why I know gay men who have been married to women for twenty years or more, and who remain committed to their marriages with their wives, who have found that they could not live with a healthy level of self-love or self-acceptance until they accepted their gayness as a core part of who they are.

Coming to know ourselves includes coming to understand how desire and the capacity for pleasure and intimacy is connected to our sense of well being, to self-love, to love of others and to the creation of the kinds of primary bonds that make family possible. It is to come to see ourselves as having the capacity for love, and the capacity for good that flows from love. It is to come to understand sexuality as both a gift and a stewardship, since intimacy in a primary relationship can help ground us and strengthen us for service in the larger world. Coming to know ourselves is to come to accept that our capacity for love of others is expanded as we love ourselves; we literally “love our neighbor as ourselves.” It is to see ourselves as fully empowered and enabled children of God, despite what the world may tell us about ourselves.

So the moment we begin to acquire this kind of self-knowledge, gay and lesbian Saints are faced with an existential quandary that in fundamental ways is no different from the existential quandary faced by anybody else. Because the fundamental question is: How do I know what I know? Who and what can I trust to give me an accurate appraisal of the world I live in? What is a trustworthy guide to moral action in the world? These are questions we all have to answer. But to the gay or lesbian Saint, the problem is more acute and less easy to avoid, because our internal guides are so much at odds with approved Church teaching and with what our families always assumed about us and with our own internal desire to please and be externally compliant with Church and family. We are literally torn in two, trying to be faithful to the Church, and trying to be attentive to some of the most profound, urgent promptings of our own souls.

The spiritual crisis of gay and lesbian Saints becomes a spiritual crisis for the Church as a whole. Those who are unwilling to wrestle along side us, to bear our burdens with us, would tell us that our only way forward is to suppress hard-won self-knowledge. They would eliminate the conflict by taking refuge in an infallible priesthood, by denying what we know about ourselves and attributing it to the world and to the devil. Gay and lesbian Saints, on the other hand, are at a similarly painful crossroads as the rest of the Church. The temptation is to resolve the crisis by withdrawing from the Church. We would eliminate the conflict by denying the role that Church and priesthood play in the achievement of spiritual maturity, and by rejecting the Church as corrupt. But the solution to our problems collectively is not to be found in either form of denial, it is to be found in listening, in work, in patience and in faith.

My Testimony
I think to most active Latter-day Saints, I look damned. I am an openly gay man, married to another man. I am excommunicated from the Church, and have been stripped of priesthood and temple blessings.

I think I was damned. I was angry at the Church and at God. I was deaf to the voice of the Spirit. Everything I saw, I saw only outwardly, what it is on the surface, only what it is in the physical, material sense. I was blessed with life, a life-partner, a family and friends, with material well being. But I wasn't sufficiently grateful for those things, and in many ways I behaved like a man determined to lose them. I hungered for a good world, a better world, for Zion. But I had no idea how to even begin to achieve it, either for myself personally or for the larger human family. I lived day to day, without hope.

God took pity on me. I don't feel I did anything special to deserve it, but here at the Sunstone Symposium in 2005, the Spirit spoke to me in a way that I couldn't deny, testifying to me of the existence of God, and of his love for me, and of his desire to have me back in his fold. The Spirit pushed me to start attending Church again, to pray and read the scriptures daily and to start living the Word of Wisdom again. The Spirit helped me to realize how precious my relationship with my husband is, what a precious gift our life together and our love is, and started to show me what I needed to do to nurture and cultivate that gift, through the Law of Chastity, and through listening and kindness and consideration. The Spirit taught me the importance of consecrating myself to the way of Christ's love by living the Law of Tithing, even if I cannot give my tithes to the Church right now. When the Spirit opened up to me a vision of what I could have, of the kind of fellowship I could have with God, if I could only be attentive and obey, I knew that I wanted it more than I wanted anything else in life. I wanted the waters of everlasting life welling up in my heart (John 4: 14; D&C 63: 23).

I'm not damned any more. I am not angry at God or the Church. I am blessed with the daily, sustaining presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. I am never alone. I see things differently. I see things outwardly, but the Lord blesses me with understanding of inward things too, of things that we can only understand if we have the Spirit as our guide. I am blessed with a husband, and a foster son, and with family and friends, and now I know how precious those blessings are, how blessed I am, and I do not take them for granted. And I have a vision of Zion, and I think I know what I need to get there, what all of us need to get there.

And I'm committed to get there, even though I must stand outside the gates of the temple, even though I sit on the back row at Church and must let the sacrament tray pass me by. I sometimes wonder if I won't break bread or drink of the cup again until that day that Christ himself drinks it new in the Kingdom of God (Mark 14: 25). But I don't doubt my worthiness. I don't doubt that I am a child of God or that I have a rightful place in the Kingdom.

I don't think most members of the Church feel they need me. But I understand that the Church can't progress until the members who wish I would go away collectively understand that they do need me; just as I could not progress until I understood that I need them. I understand that what spiritual maturity ultimately means to me is to be with them of one heart and one mind and to dwell in righteousness with them.

I understand that the path to that spiritual maturity is the path of priesthood power, of “persuasion, ...long-suffering, ...gentleness and meekness, and unfeigned; ...kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.” It is ever keeping my eye on the path that Christ showed us, of submission and love. I think this is what Sister Janice Allred spoke of Thursday, in her symposium presentation “Whose Wife Will She Be? Marriage, Embodiment and Salvation,” when she spoke about the importance of “being faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods” (D&C 84: 33). Like Abraham, I have found that there is greater happiness and peace and rest for me, and I seek the blessings of the fathers (Abraham 1: 2).

Gay and lesbian Saints have been given a gift. First of all, because we are forced to choose between what we know about ourselves, and what the world says we are supposed to be, because the world threatens to take everything away from us if we don't conform, we have a special opportunity to learn what is really true and what is really valuable in life. We are offered an opportunity to learn what it means to serve without hope of reward, since no matter how righteously we live, if we are true to our love and true to our primary relationships, we will be denied this-worldly rewards like respectability and legal marriage, and will be threatened by those who don't understand with otherworldly punishments of eternal damnation. We can learn the value of considering the inward value of things.

We have also been given a gift because at this time and in this place, because of who we are and the way we are viewed by our brothers and sisters, we have an opportunity to learn a kind of love that we can learn no other way than this, and to teach this love to our brothers and sisters. We have been given an opportunity by those who despise us to open a door to Zion if only we can be faithful.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Working Out Our Salvation

The following is a piece I had published in the current (August 2010) issue of The Mormon Worker:

And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led....  After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction.... Wherefore, I, Nephi, did strive to keep the commandments of the Lord, and I did exhort my brethren to faithfulness and diligence.  (1 Nephi 17: 13-15)

A few years ago, after I had given a talk discussing the dilemmas faced by gay Mormons, a young woman clearly moved by my account of those dilemmas raised her hand and wanted to know what well-meaning people of faith could do to help.  In another time and place, and under other circumstances, I might have offered the usual activist's laundry list: demonstrate and work to raise awareness, talk to friends and family, write letters to leaders, give money to organizations committed to gay rights, vote and encourage others to vote.  But under the circumstances that had brought me to the particular place and time in which I had given that talk, I had different advice for her.  I told her to be faithful.  To live the Gospel of Jesus Christ fully and authentically.  To stay active and involved and true to the Church.  I encouraged her to keep her heart from bitterness or anger or impatience, and never to become critical of the Church.  I told her I certainly never want to hear about individuals leaving the Church in frustration because they feel that the Church is treating me or others in my situation unfairly.  If she did feel genuine concern for her lesbian and gay sisters and brothers, I encouraged her simply to keep us in her prayers. 

In some ways that advice was as hard for me to give as it may have been for her to receive, because it takes letting go our illusions about what we can control, and because it requires faith in a power that is beyond us, that is constantly working for our good.  As I have continued to advocate this kind of “faith-based” approach to gay rights, a frequent criticism I have encountered is that it is too passive. 

I acknowledge, there is an element of passivity in it.  In the Book of Mormon text quoted above, the words of the Lord that Nephi cites were revealed as an explanation for why Lehi and his family were commanded to make their journey in such an unconventional way.  For instance, they were commanded not to light fires, because the Lord would miraculously make their food “sweet” without having to cook it.  When Nephi built the ship that would carry him and his family across the great waters, he “did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did [he] build the ship after the manner of men; but [he] did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto [him]” (1 Nephi 18: 2).  The notion of sailing on a ship built “not after the manner of men” based on instructions mysteriously received by revelation was sufficiently terrifying to Nephi's older brothers to spark mutiny.  It is understandable in human terms why Laman and Lemuel might be hesitant to set out on the ocean in such a craft.  The Lord's purpose in leading Lehi's family through the wilderness so unconventionally was so they would know at journey's end that the Lord was God, and that it was he who had delivered them.  I acknowledge that if this is the model of redemption upon which we rely, there is of necessity an aspect of forgoing logic, there is an aspect of cultivating dependency on an unseen power that is unknown and unknowable in terms accessible to common sense.  In other words, there is an aspect of this kind of approach that is profoundly passive.  

And our common sense rebels against such a passive, “faith-based” approach to our problems.  We naturally fear that such faith might be a kind of opiate, blinding us to injustice so long as it is religiously framed or rationalized, encouraging us to trust leaders who don't have our best interests at heart, lulling us into waiting when we should be fighting.  As Karl Marx put it: “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.”[1]

But faith, while having passive aspects or elements, is not merely passive.  Faith is not merely credulous, not merely a surrender of our critical faculties to some unknown higher power.  The end of faith is knowledge, to know God as he is, to know him as the ground of our existence and the source of our salvation.  Its purpose is not simply to lull us with imaginary hopes, but to bring us into something truer, something more real and human and humane than what the world as presently constituted can offer us. 

As anyone knows who has practiced faith, faith places uniquely active demands on us.  It requires us to work, struggle and strive toward a world presently unimaginable and unseen but better.  The “promised land” of all true religion is not just a physical terrain (though it is also that, because real people occupy real, physical space), but it is also a state of mind and heart and spirit that is described in Mormon theological terms as “Zion,” as that state of human existence in which there is no poverty, pride or inequality, because all God's children are of one heart and one mind and dwell together in righteousness.  This is why the Lord tells Nephi, “inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land,” and why Nephi's first response to the Lord's explanation of the nature of their journey is, “Wherefore, I, Nephi, did strive to keep the commandments of the Lord, and I did exhort my brethren to faithfulness and diligence.”  Any promised land, no matter how sacred, can become a heaven or a hell depending on the faithfulness of those who inhabit it, so any journey toward a promised land is always more an inward journey toward righteousness and love than it is an outward journey toward some physical place.  And any such striving for righteousness and love will have both inward and outward, both passive and active elements.  It involves each believer both as a teacher and as a learner, both as a speaker and as a listener, both as a giver and as a receiver.  And it requires of us profound humility.

Ultimately, however, I do not believe we have within us the capacity to achieve the kind of righteousness required to dwell in Zion in and of ourselves. With unaided common sense we are certainly capable of appreciating the beauty of Zion.  The concept of Zion as a perfect human social order based on equality and peace is the highest goal not just of every religion in the world but of all secular philosophy as well.  As a concept it is universally admired.  But as a practice it has universally failed.  I believe the reason it fails is because the level of sacrifice and personal transcendence required to create a true Zion cannot be achieved through commonsense notions of virtue.  There's too much of self and pride, and too little vision in the unaided human heart. 

So I cannot say that I know how we will get to the promised land, but I know that it will not be by conventional means.  It will be by miraculous means, by means that, when we finally arrive, we will be compelled to acknowledge, as the Lord tells Nephi, “that I, the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction.”  And the beginning of such a journey can only begin in relationship with that God.  So it requires acts of listening to the Spirit, of trusting what we learn from the Spirit, of patience in the face of incredulity, and of obedience.  In other words, faith.

While I do not know how we will ultimately be brought into the promised land we all yearn for, while I believe that will be up to the Lord, I can still tell what I know of my journey toward it.  In the summer of 1986 I was suicidal because I accepted uncritically the teachings of Church leaders that homosexual feelings must be the result of some personal sin, and I felt powerless to overcome them.  I had had a testimony since the age of eight, and had lived my whole life as obediently and faithfully as I could.  I had served an honorable mission for the Church and was a Spencer W. Kimball Scholar at BYU.  And I was ready to throw my life away in despair because I could not understand why it was that no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I prayed, no matter how faithful and obedient I was, these feelings simply wouldn't go away.  In fact, they seemed to grow stronger.

Thanks be to God, I learned for myself what Nephi learned, namely that the Lord leads us and saves us in unconventional ways, if only we will open our hearts and listen to him.  When Nephi's brothers complained “we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken,” Nephi replied, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?”  And they answered, “We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15: 7-9). So it was with me. When I stopped making assumptions about the state of my soul, when I stopped arrogating to myself a power that belongs to God alone and stopped judging and condemning myself based on an incorrect and impartial understanding of myself, and exercised at least enough faith to “inquire of the Lord,” and seek understanding about the state of my soul, only then did I learn to praise the Lord that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” that in me his works are “marvellous... and that my soul knoweth right well” (Psalm 139:14).

At one point in my life, I wearied myself and burned myself out trying to defend myself from homophobic attacks and criticisms.  I felt the need to justify my existence and my love for my husband by arguing with interpretations of scripture or religious viewpoints that condemned me. But ultimately those efforts fed a kind of hopelessness.  When I learned to turn to the Lord, to surrender to him my doubts and fears, and to ask for his help, I found flowing into me the “peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4: 7).  I learned that ultimately, it is impossible to communicate or justify verbally the most important things about who I am, and why the love I share with my husband is important and valuable and a gift of God, and why it has a place in God's creation and ultimately in God's eternal kingdom.  I understand that God knows the answers to these questions, and simply demands of me trust that his knowing will gradually become our knowing, but only as we walk a bit further in the path of love. I understand that all knowing in this world is partial until we have walked in faith first. So when people speak words that are judgmental and hurtful and false; when people say things or behave in ways that demean me or hurt me; I understand that whatever I might say in my own defense will always be partial; will never capture the fullness of who I am or God's purposes for me; and to do so is to fail to trust what God has revealed to me in the stillness and silence.

In that stillness, I find an endless reservoir of love to offer back for the misunderstanding and unkindness. In the stillness I find myself beckoned on by the vision of Zion, of a Kingdom of Love in which I, and my husband and our son have a place and role to play. I find the patience to begin to live in that kingdom, even when no one else around me – even my dearly beloved brothers and sisters in the Church – don't see it yet or understand my place in it. I find the strength to face challenges in my relationship with my husband; to be a guide and an example to our teenage son; to make our home a shelter in the storms of life that all of us have to face, and that few of us can find the strength to face without the love and nurture that only a family can provide. And I find the hope to speak out, to tell my story, to seek out and build community, to make a difference, to be a voice and a presence in a world that might otherwise leave me cynical and hopeless.

All of this begins with being faithful. That faithfulness includes refusing to see the Church, however imperfect its leaders or members, as the source of my problems, but rather the vehicle through which all my highest and deepest hopes and aspirations can be achieved. Sheltering and protecting hope and listening to the Spirit are the most important work we do. All other good works flow from that inward, invisible work. If we have the faith, hope and love that emanate from a dynamic relationship with a living God, we will have the discernment we need to evaluate and engage in other good works, which may include items from the traditional activist's laundry list: demonstrating and working to raise awareness, talking to friends and family, writing letters to leaders, giving money to good causes, voting and encouraging others to vote. But it will also help us discern when it is time to take a step back and wait, to offer an olive leaf, to listen and simply to pray. We may be led unconventionally. And in the end our salvation will certainly come from unexpected quarters and in ways we never would have believed, to help us know who is its author and to give him the glory he is due.

[1] Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (as published in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, 1844; and republished at, accessed July 10, 2010).

Monday, August 9, 2010

Am I Really That Starved?

Since leaving Utah yesterday, I have been dogged by this deep sense of longing.  It's like there's this big hole ripped open in my gut that just won't heal.

I guess it's just that I felt so charged being around Latter-day Saints who are so passionately committed to my inclusion in the Church, and to fighting for my equality and my dignity in the larger society.  And there were so many people there who hugged me, put their arms around me, and laughed and cried with me.  There was just this emotional richness.  And my soul just soared...  I was so happy.

At first, I figured, yes, the sadness will go away eventually, once I get back into my day-to-day routines.  I was expecting it to be gone this morning once I had to go back to work.  But it hasn't.  It just lingers on.

I called my husband at work and talked to him about it, and he tried to comfort me.  And I've prayed about it.  I didn't ask God to take away my sadness, as much as to learn from it.  What is this sadness trying to teach me?

Shouldn't Church be for everyone every day like Sunstone was for me for one week?  Am I really that starved for unconditional love and support and a deep, deep sense of community?

Or maybe it's an illustration of that basic spiritual principle that Nephi taught, that there must needs be opposition in all things.  We will savor the sweet and the good all the more, we will understand how precious it is, because we have wandered in the desert, because we've tasted the bitterness of loneliness.

No one should have to sit in Church alone, feeling like there's no one to share their burdens with them.  So often I've felt so strong -- because I felt the Spirit of the Lord filling me up and comforting me and making it possible for me to go on alone with a sense of hope and joy, with a vision of the ultimate communion we would all share.  I knew we would get there.  I still know it.  But now I realize, the vision of communion is no substitute for actual communion.  Yes, the Lord has promised me -- and I believe his promise! -- that we'll get there.  And that keeps me working for it.  But in the meantime, I have to do without it.  So I'm grieving deeply, more deeply than I have in a long, long time.

And maybe this bittersweet happiness/sadness that I feel, it's to remind me how important it is for me to reach out to others.  If there's a brother or a sister who needs comfort, who needs words of cheer, who needs a hug, who needs to be reminded how valuable they are, I need to be the one who gives it.  The thought of that gives me real comfort.  And it makes me less afraid to reach out.  (Why are we so often afraid to comfort?)

I hope I won't feel this ache in my gut too long.  Eventually, the pain will fade, I hope.  And I'll go on and continue my day-to-day routines, somewhat anesthetized to the anguish of a broken world that might otherwise distract me from the work I need to do to make it better.

No choice but to keep walking.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Utah Songs

When my flight finally touched down in Salt Lake last Wednesday, I was really, truly happy.  It is impossible to adequately describe the profound comfort I felt about the prospect of seeing my parents, my sisters, my little brother and his wife, my nieces and nephews.  It seems like the older I get, the more precious they become to me, the more grateful I am for the love that flows between us.  I am a gay man, so I don't take their unconditional love for me for granted.

I could also hardly wait for Sunstone.  This year it exceeded my expectations.  This felt like my best Sunstone Symposium yet, partly because I have made lots of friends within the Sunstone community, and seeing them again is itself a kind of family reunion.  My heart leaped at the sight of a brother or sister I hadn't seen in years.  It felt so good to hug and be hugged by them, to laugh together and exchange news.  Ron Schow was there (as always!).  It also felt good to meet for the first time new friends.  JonJon and Alan were there.  I found other new gay Mormon friends as well, including some BYU students who have been working hard to get the right to meet on campus.  A highlight of the conference for me was meeting Gerry Argetsinger.  Gerry and I were in the same ward together in Rochester, New York when I was a teenager.  I participated in road shows that he directed!  He was so delighted to see me, and seeing him and hearing news from him made me happy beyond words.  And there were some old friends from Affirmation as well.

One of the truly bittersweet moments of the Symposium was when I attended the "Why I Stay" panel.  I sat with my friend Mark from Affirmation on one side and JonJon on the other.  About half way through the panel, as I was listening to these brothers and sisters talk about the struggles of faith that had almost caused them to leave the Church, and why, after all, they had decided to stay, I couldn't help but reflect on the fact of my own excommunicated status, and my deep desire to be a part of the Church, and I started to weep.  And I couldn't stop.  The tears just flowed for the rest of panel.  And JonJon started to weep as well.  And my friend Mark put his arm around me and hugged me and tried to comfort me.  And I was comforted.  JonJon, you will never know what it meant to me to have you there, weeping by my side.  When you cry alone, that is to be truly alone.  But there can be no more powerful bond of solidarity than when someone cries with you.

I was grateful for all the passionate discussion at the Symposium this year about Prop 8.  There was overwhelming support among symposium attendees for the right of same-sex couples to marry, and there was a general sense of elation about the recent U.S. District Court ruling striking down Prop 8.  It was so comforting to be surrounded by faithful, active Mormons who see this issue the way I do -- as a matter of basic human rights and dignity.  I wished my husband and my son could have been there.  They would have been encouraged as I was.

About half way through the last session of the symposium today, I began to feel this terrible, inconsolable sadness.  I felt truly stricken.  Just this pit in my stomach that wouldn't go away.  I didn't want to leave.  I didn't want the fellowship to end.  I wanted to stay and spend more time with my friends -- both new and old.  Writing about this makes me feel better.  It helps to work out my feelings and put words to them.  All of you -- you know who you are -- I love you and am so grateful for you and I will miss you.

It's hard for me.  In some senses, I think Utah would be a very difficult place for me to live.  But in other senses, I feel I would thrive here.  I am so hungry for the kinds of fellowship I can find here that I can't find anywhere else.

Right now, I realize I miss my family too.  So as melancholy as I feel right now, that's one reason to look forward to getting on the plane again tomorrow night.

Prop 8

I find deep solace in the ruling of U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker.  (A summary of the ruling can be found here.  Thanks, Rob, for the link.)

I feel anguish, and a sense of helplessness, about the fact that this does not mean an end to the divisiveness which has escalated throughout the Prop 8 campaign and aftermath, and which will contine to tear apart families, end friendships, and divide communities.

To those of you who did support Prop 8, this has never been about your marriages.  Regardless of whether Prop 8 stands or falls, you have your marriages and all the rights that protect your marriages.  This has always been about my marriage, and our love and life together.  It has always been about my dignity, and the dignity of my husband and of many thousands of others of your fellow human beings.  It has always been about providing a framework to allow me and my husband and many thousands of others of your fellow citizens to partake in the goods of society on an equal basis with you.

This ruling is important for the same reason as any ruling helping to establish equal protection under the law -- because our constitution and the rule of law are meaningless if the rights of all are not protected, regardless of whether they are a powerful majority or a vulnerable minority.  I hope Mormons who supported Prop 8 will take this moment to seriously ask yourselves, do you really, really want civil rights to be determined by majority votes?  Is this really in the best interests of Mormons?  Is this really in the best interests of any American?

I hope that those of my family and friends and brothers and sisters in Christ who have supported Prop 8 will some day be able to celebrate with me and my husband this affirmation of our humanity.  Until then, while I feel a kind of solace in this ruling, I feel no sense of triumph.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I had two dreams recently.

In the first dream, I was in a car, on a road trip with my family.  My brother Mark was at the wheel.  He said to me that he had read the letter I had written, and so had Mom.  He said Mom was concerned that I had inappropriately “raved” my bishop, Bishop B.  The sentence made no sense to me.  I wondered if I had misheard the word.  I asked him, “Raved?”

I was in my bedroom alone.  I was thinking about my relationship with Bishop B.  At first I thought he probably sees me as someone who is sincere but mistaken.  I felt it would only be a matter of time until Bishop B sees me as I am.  But then I wondered if he saw me as a threat to the Church, as a carrier of dangerous ideas that would infect faithful members of the Church.  Was I seen as a pest who must be eliminated from the Church?

I noticed a mosquito lighting on me and trying to bite me.  I brushed it away.  Then I noticed there were more.  I looked around me in my room, and then I noticed an open window above my head.  The mosquitos were coming in through there.  I looked up and saw a vast swarm of mosquitos descending.  The sky was virtually black with them, and the air was full of buzzing.  Some of the mosquitos were huge.  I tried to close the window, but I could not because they were swarming in too quickly.

In the second dream, I saw a tiger man (half man, half tiger).  He was considered by authorities to be a dangerous outlaw.  But now the last day was dawning, and he was an angel of God in disguise.

People were coming to a warehouse to ask for grain.  There were men handing people bagfuls of grain.

I saw myself.  I was enormous – bloated and fat.  My shirt looked like one of the bags that the men had been handing out.  I realized that I was so fat because I was stuffed full of grain.


If we cannot see through the eyes of love, then even the angels of God will appear to us as a descending scourge of hate.

In this world, we wear masks, some our choosing and some not of our choosing.  Some of us wear masks of abundance.  Some of us wear masks of poverty.  Some of us wear masks of love.  Some of us wear masks of the unloved.  But eventually, all masks will come off.  All will be revealed.  And then all we will have left is what we can carry in our hearts:

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.  For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.  But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away...  For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.