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?