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?

17 comments:

LDS Brother said...

I think a good proportion of us are already living the "4th way", whether we do it consciously or not. Though I may not have yet reached the same amount of spiritual peace within the church as you have, I really have little interest in leaving it all behind since I remember the fulfilling peace it gave me in my pre-adolescent years (That "Devil-you-know" situation.).

Rob said...

I think that what you specify is impossible for the LDS Church. At least without such fundamental gut-wrenching change that the organization and much of its membership would be rocked to its foundations. I believe there is no interest whatsoever amongst senior leadership who call the shots to undertake that kind of introspection. Therefore, we must make our own way.

El Genio said...

It's a nice idea, but IMO any organization that is restricted by the current doctrine of the LDS church is going to fail at some of these ideals. There is no way to get around the fact that this doctrine is literally poisonous (and often deadly) to gay people. There will probably never be an organization that can truly cater to my spiritual needs in my lifetime. Which means that responsibility falls squarely on my shoulders. Hopefully someday I can find someone to share it with, but if not I'll just have to do the best I can.

Ned said...

I applaud you for seeking the ideal and I agree that the best place for this to happen is within the church itself.

Human history includes so many instances of people seeking the ideal when it seemed impossible. Man will never fly. What would you use a telephone for? Sending pictures through wires is impossible. Organ rejection makes transplantation deadly. Only a few large businesses would ever need a computer. What would you do with a home computer? Race mixing is evil. The civil rights movement is a communist plot. Blacks will never hold the Priesthood. BYU will never open its doors too homosexuals. Player pianos and records will kill sheet music. Radio will kill records and newspapers. Television will kill radio. Cable TV and the VCR will kill TV and movies. Harry Potter encourages witchcraft. The Internet will kill publishing. The iPhone apps will kill the World Wide Web. Gay marriage will kill traditional families. Gay families aren't real families. I'd rather have you come home in a coffin than commit se,xual sin.

Well the list goes on and on doesn't it? But fortunately as a species we continue to challenge the status quo and our world continues to change because people who are told something is impossible keep trying for it and throughout our history the once-impossible often morphs into something so commonplace we don't even notice it anymore.

In a moment I will click an orange graphic that says "PUBLISH YOUR COMMENT" and these words will within minutes be available to people throughout the world. Millions of other people can also do this. When in the history of the world have so many people been able to communicate so inexpensively to so many others and not just send a one-way message, but to engage in an ongoing conversation? If ever there was a time when new ideas and sought-after ideals can become reality, now is that time.

Again I applaud you and encourage you to continue to seek that which will improve the world.

J G-W said...

LDS Brother - Over the years I have become aware of more and more gay men and lesbians who are quietly finding some kind of balance in their lives, living the gospel the best they can -- even if they are getting no encouragement from the Church for a variety of reasons.

This confirms that we, in fact, need no organization to help us do that.

Why organize? The main reason, I guess, is to benefit from the encouragement that comes through fellowship, and to benefit from the wisdom that comes from sharing stories and hearing about others' successes (and failures). I was really energized by the fellowship I experienced at Sunstone this year and I hunger for more...

We always have the connections that are available to us through blogging. I often wonder, wouldn't it be cool to have more than merely virtual fellowship? Don't we benefit from singing and praying together? Actually seeing real people and getting real hugs?

But maybe we also need the trial of faith that comes with just finding our own way. Maybe we need to be in the desert a bit longer so that we can appreciate the oasis...

Rob - Can you clarify what you feel is impossible for the LDS Church? As long as we attend Sacrament (and other meetings) with a sincere desire to grow spiritually, we are invited to participate even if excommunicated. Nothing in LDS belief or practice forbids us from praying, studying the scriptures, living the Word of Wisdom, applying the Law of Chastity to our significant-other relationships.

My journey began with the realization that I cannot control the behavior of others. I cannot force anyone -- not my dad, not my best friend, not my bishop, not a single General Authority -- to see things from my perspective or ask the questions I wish they would ask. But that shouldn't hinder me in a search for truth wherever I find it.

Nor, incidentally, should the failure of others to love adequately cause me to lose my testimony. (Nor should I use it as an excuse not to love...)

But maybe if enough of us live lives of faith, hope and charity, and if enough of us bear witness of what we know, it will enable others to open up in ways they might not have otherwise. But whether they do or not, my life is still full of joy because I know the truth and act on it and don't let anyone else's behavior distract me from it....

El Genio - First of all, you have to specify which doctrine you consider literally poisonous. Because I assume you would agree that many, many of the core doctrines of Mormonism are empowering and life-giving... We are all children of God, for example, one of the most empowering and life-giving doctrines I can think of.

Now I remember a time when many people assumed that it was doctrine that blacks were "fence-sitters" in the war in Heaven and therefore spiritually inferior. I think that so-called doctrine (which was even embraced and propagated by some G.A.'s) has been repudiated (though not as publicly as I wish it would have been).

The take home lesson? Not everything that passes for doctrine necessarily is doctrine.

There is not a single faithful member who must not go through a truth-discernment process that unfolds something along the lines of Alma 32.

Lots of members are lazy and go on borrowed faith... But borrowed faith won't help them. (Check out Matthew 25: 1-13.)

All of us, gay and straight, have to work to find faith and meaning in the doctrines of the Church ourselves. There's no self-evident meaning until we appropriate it and make it part of our own lives. So LDS doctrine doesn't have some passive quality that "poisons" us. Only the uncharitable misinterpretations, and our inability to discern someone else's misuse of doctrine, can do that.

The best defense against such poison is to humble yourself, delve in, study, pray for the guidance of the Spirit, and seek all the light you possibly can....

J G-W said...

Ned - AMEN. (And thank you.)

That's an impressive list of "commonplace truths" that are bunk. And you and I both know that list could be considerably longer...! Well, virtually endless actually. Many are the paths that lead unto destruction...

As for applauding and encouraging... Back at you.

Ned said...

Thanks, to you!

Maybe, with David Baker's help, it would be a combination of blogging, tweeting, live web chats, and other web 2.0 stuff that he making his living doing. Do you know David and have you considered telling him of your dream?

J G-W said...

Wow, what an amazing coincidence... I was just friended on Facebook by him... Talk about synchronicity!

Sean said...

J G-W, again a delightful post to read.

I agree that Spirituality or the continued seeking of Spirituality does indeed have to rest upon individual shoulders. But to have a place where we could freely commune.

many of the blogs or webgroupings i've joined have been less than whole. I tire of people complaining about the Church, the doctrine, the silliness that is often present with some.

i want to explore the whole thing. Everything is Spiritual to me. Everything is connected to each other.

The Church has the authority over some very important and vital rites that must be obtained. While there indeed may be some misunderstandings regarding certain issues (on both sides) there is a middle way (i love taoism) to be achieved as well.

I look forward to see how this plans out and will certainly participate.

J G-W said...

Sean - thanks for the kudos, always appreciated.

I don't think I've committed to form any organization yet. Part of me hopes that an existing organization could take up the challenge of striving for a more inclusive and/or holistic approach.

Though I think some of the comments on this post demonstrate why that would be difficult.

Many, for instance, have become so embittered toward the Church that they no longer hold out any hope for meaningful communion within an LDS Church framework. Those folks will tend to drift toward Affirmation, or will focus most of their energies or efforts into secular gay rights organizations.

On the other hand, it's impossible for me to imagine Northstar ever actually opening its membership to someone in my situation. And as long as it doesn't, I suspect it will continue to appeal primarily to the handful of remarkable individuals who are making MOM's work, or who are comfortable with life-long celibacy. It will also appeal temporarily to the "white knuckled" gay Mormons who are holding on by the tips of their fingers, but will soon drop out of the Church once they hit a certain age and decide that celibacy is for the birds...

A common scenario of movement in the other direction involves someone living a promiscuous, substance-abusing, spiritually barren lifestyle who suddenly realizes their life is without meaning (surprise!) and goes full tilt in the other direction by jumping into Evergreen or, now, Northstar.

These dynamics demonstrate the difficulty we find individually of finding the middle path (yes, I love the Tao too!), and might also demonstrate why any organization would have a hard time collectively charting such a path.

Maybe we need to just work on finding it individually and supporting one another individually.

Though if I sensed there were a critical mass interested in such an organization, I would be willing to try to make it happen in a heartbeat!

MidKnight543 said...

I believe that most importantly is to live our life with love and respect and let people know that yes gay people do believe in God and have faith. It is through the personal lives we touch that we can do the most work. A very devout Mormon friend of mine just came out as a lesbian. I was surprised to learn that a lot of her self-acceptance and faith came from her relationship with me. She had never met anyone that had lived a gay life for 17 yeara and yet was still faithful and believed in God. She actually told her family that her gay friend was one of the most spiritual and God loving persons she had ever known. I felt very fortunate that I was able to be a pillar for her during her difficult time. She too will soon be facing the wrath of her love and being disfellowshipped or excommunicated for her 'sexual perversion'.

Ron Schow said...

John

It seems to me you have identified 7 key issues that would help us as we try to move to a better place in helping MOHOs reconcile spirituality and sexuality. As you and I have discussed this challenge several times during the past few years I believe we both agree that the Church can become a more welcoming place and perhaps understanding these 7 things could help in that process. Since there is currently a MOHO directory I wonder if we could work with Abelard and others who are like minded to make that inclusive directory the location where those who agree with the general idea of working within the Church and having a supportive community could talk to each other and support each other. Perhaps a subpart of the directory could be for those who agree with and want to work within the framework of the 7 items (or perhaps there might be some refinement of the 7 items). Just identifying a large number of persons in partnerships who want to stay close to spirituality and the Church would be useful and once as large a group as possible are talking to each other and those who want to be supportive within that group and also within the Church are linked in some way, there might be useful things to share as each of us try in our own ways to maintain our spiritual and Church ties and our general community MOHO ties. I've had some recent discussions with others who have ties to the MOHO directory which make me think this could be a possibility.

Ned said...

Ron's suggested approach taps into several high-leverage possibilities:

A. It seeks to integrate an existing online resource, the Moho Directory which already has a structure and a following.

B. It seeks to integrate an existing Moho personality and persona, our dear Abelard, a convert of substance, kindness and long experience in the church, who many of us know, trust and love.

C. It is in harmony with the church's oft-stated, less- is-more ideal that "We don't need new programs, we just need to make better use of existing structures within the church like the Priesthood and Relief Society, etc." Perhaps within the Moho community much of the needed infrastructure exists and we're much closer to being able to pull this off than we think, but we do need to involve many others in thinking through how to maximize the impact.

Once again a savvy web 2.0 practitioner like David Baker springs to mind. (see his Mormon.org profile here:http://www.mormon.org/me/1TJC-eng/David) Isn't this amazing? Maybe we need encourage more of us to submit such profiles and then when they are published, see if we can drive both gay and straight members to these eye-opening, church-sanctioned glimpses into the lives of openly-gay but active church members.

Maybe we need to post some of our own profiles somewhere with guys like John who are active in the church even though they are not members right now? And of families such as John's where "...other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation." (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, http://lds.org/library/display/0,4945,161-1-11-1,00.html)

D. It somewhat follows the historical example of blacks in Africa "ready" for the Priesthood before it was granted to them, in that it organizes us as supportive of the church even as we are organized in a way that we are no longer invisible, but not seen as a threat to the existing power structure.

E. It encourages input, dialogue and interactivity from those of us in the trenches and it seeks to pull us together into a critical mass.

Bear in mind that if only 1% in of church members are gay, that means there 138,248 of us out here in the world, 517 currently serving missionaries, 3,630 seminary students and 3,373 institute students. Surely if we could bring together just a few thousand of us, much progress is within reach. (My numbers are derived from current church membership stats online here: http://lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/statistical-information)

AKLDS said...

Wonderful post, great thing to read first thing in my morning. Will give me something to think about today.

I

J G-W said...

Ron and Ned - I like the idea of using an existing resource -- the Moho Directory -- to start to build a more self-conscious, more inclusive network of gay Mormons. I think Abelard, the Directory's creator, is already interested in this.

Ned, I love the profiles idea. I think its a great way to begin to develop a sense of community.

I guess the question is, who all is interested? What are some good next steps?

cal thompson said...

I am thrilled with your assessment. And I do not feel it would ever hit the ground running or otherwise until there is a viable respectful demand. Someone better start respectfully demanding.

Ron Schow said...

It seems to me the next steps would be as follows.

1) If Abelard is willing, it seems to me his list is already quite inclusive. There must be some way, however, to have those interested be included even if they don't have a blog. North Star has a public discussion arrangement which is rather open and maybe something like that would work where those participating could have their names listed. NS also recommends that everyone make a comment at least every few months. I like the idea of working to make the existing organizations more friendly to each other, but the concept you have laid out is to stay within the Church structure, but faciliate discussion and support along with working to reconcile spirituality and sexuality. This will require the help of those skilled in online options.

2. So then create a mechanism on the MOHO site that will let interested persons identify themselves who want to maintain Church ties and provide support and discussion within your 7 guiding concepts. Each person could provide a basic profile.

3. Even if the group starts out small it would provide a place that growth could occur. Maybe eventually North Star or other organizations could link to it as a subpart of their broader mission. It could be the location for the missing organization you have identified within the existing BIG THREE.

4. I would see it as the place we could discuss efforts to find hospitable wards and stakes where there is a reaching out to MOHOS under a wide umbrella. We could discuss efforts to reconcile spirituality and sexuality. As the group develops we could refine the 7 concepts as needed.

5. To me the core issues involve an effort to find support and reconciliation within the Church and within a supportive MOHO community.

6. One positive aspect would be that the broader MOHO community could be aware of this effort to reconcile within the Church--- even if they are not interested. It may be their interest grows while watching what can be accomplished.