This is something I perennially struggle with.
I go through periods in my prayer life where every day I pray to have my Church membership restored, to be fully reunited with the Church. This is something I really desire, and I think it's a righteous desire. I want to be baptized.
And I have done my homework and wrestled with the Church's current position that someone in a same-sex relationship cannot be a member. I have fasted and prayed and pondered and wrestled with the implications of this: i.e., that the fastest and easiest road to membership in the Church would be for me to simply "put away" my partner. (That's a nice biblical euphemism, isn't it?) I guess one way of looking at this is that for me, my entry into the Church would have to begin with an act of betrayal and abandonment. The end result of my fasting, praying, pondering and wrestling with this was a clear message from the Spirit that to do so, for me, would be a sin.
My bishop isn't pressuring me to leave my husband. He does feel that I am paying the price right now for past "bad decisions."
I have on numerous occasions received comfort through the Holy Spirit. My Heavenly Father does not expect me to fix this. My relationship is blessed by him, and is a good thing, and is part of his intention for me to be happy in this life and find eternal life in the next. And it is not my fault that to be in relationship with Göran means I cannot be a member of the Church. And the Lord will not withhold any blessings from me of which I am deserving, just because of circumstances that are beyond my control. He knows my righteous desire to be re-baptized and to enter into the Church; I've expressed this desire to my bishop. And I have received an abundance of spiritual gifts greater than anything I ever received when I was a Church member. And the Lord has blessed our relationship, helping to resolve my husband's birth certificate/passport issue, and reuniting us with his family in Memphis; and opening our respective families' eyes and hearts in such a way that they fully love and support us and honor our relationship and accept us both as full and equal members of our families.
So sometimes I have felt it was ungrateful to ask for more. And sometimes I have felt the Spirit quietly prompting me to simply be patient and wait on the Lord to fix this. It is his Church, and he will work things out in his own way. So sometimes in my prayer life I let go of praying to become a member of the Church, and I just express gratitude for the many blessings we've received. The blessings we receive are tailored to our unique, individual circumstances, and they might not make sense or be applicable in someone else's circumstances. Though like all blessings, they are conditioned upon our exercise of faith. That's how the Lord helps us to grow.
Recently, I heard about a situation of two gay men who are members of the Church and who are legally married, and who are now facing excommunication. It's not unlike the situation Buckley Jeppson faced some years ago. In Buckley's case, after a flurry of media publicity to the effect that the Church was about to excommunicate a legally married individual, his Stake dropped disciplinary proceedings against him and he was allowed to remain a member in good standing. As far as I know, to the present time Buckley remains married to a person of the same sex, and also a member of the Church.
Buckley's case is a little confusing to me. Does it mean that the Church is willing to violate its own principles merely for the sake of avoiding bad press? Or does it mean that there in fact is no reason why two members of the same sex who are married couldn't be members of the Church? On numerous occasions, I've invited my husband to go to Church with me. The Restored Gospel gives my life meaning and it has opened my mind and my heart in incredible ways, and I wish that he could experience what I have experienced. But my inability to be a member of the Church is a huge stumbling block for him. He says if I am allowed to be a member, then he will consider attending, not before. This is understandable (even as it breaks my heart). If Buckley's case in fact means that I could be a member, I wish my bishop and stake president could be informed about this.
The Church's current position is a terrible stumbling block for many -- I want to say the vast majority of -- gay men and lesbians. The price that gay men and lesbians have to pay to remain members in good standing is so high that only a small minority are willing or able to do it. And this creates terrible contradictions in their lives that has resulted in much pain, cynicism and loss of faith. This breaks my heart, almost every day of my life, every time I witness the light of faith going out in the heart of yet another one of my gay or lesbian brothers or sisters.
The Lord has taken and is taking good care of me; and I trust implicitly in the promises I've received from the Spirit that I won't be disadvantaged in any way due to circumstances beyond my control. But I believe that my situation is an anomaly. It's one of those many things in this world that is not right, and that will eventually need to be righted by the Lord.
Here are some reasons why Church membership matters, why it continues to matter and will always matter to me:
Baptism is the first ordinance of the Gospel. It is a visible, tangible reminder of the commitments we make to God.
A very Biblical metaphor of the relationship between us and God is the metaphor of marriage. The covenants we enter into with God have been compared in numerous places in scripture to the covenant of marriage. We are, in essence, married to God through baptism.
Göran and I lived together without marriage for a couple of years before we finally had a commitment ceremony in 1995. (In 2008 we were legally married in California, an option that was not available to us until then.) For many years, as a young gay man in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I felt bitter about the fact that legal marriage was not available to same-sex couples. I convinced myself that what matters in a relationship is the commitments we make in our hearts; that external ordinances and artifacts such as marriage ceremonies or certificates don't matter or make any difference. When we finally got married (it was Göran's idea to do so!) I learned how wrong I had been. The gathering with family and friends, the making of a public promise, and even (years later!) the state acknowledgment of that promise and the issuing of a certificate to that effect made a HUGE difference. These things deepened our commitments to one another in incredible ways.
It's the same with baptism. Right now I am, in a very real sense, "cohabiting" with the Church. My testimony and my desire for complete and total union with the Church does matter, it does make a difference, just as the love between two unmarried people does make a difference. But it isn't complete until it is sealed by the outward ordinance.
Being a member of the Church incorporates us into a system of accountability that helps us keep covenants. I long to be able to participate in that system, to be able to be held accountable by Church and priesthood leaders. This is a good thing. I do the best I can to live the gospel, but I need help from time to time, and the temptations to stray are greater when it's just me, by myself, trying to live the gospel on my own.
That's what I must do, I have no choice. I guess in some ways, when I do live a gospel principle, it becomes that much more powerful a statement because there is no system of accountability for me except my own conscience. For instance, Göran and Glen and I had Thanksgiving this year with Glen's boyfriend's family. (That was, parenthetically, a WONDERFUL occasion. We felt so grateful for this family that completely welcomed us and made us feel right at home around a HUGE Thanksgiving table with lots of other extended family present!) There was wine being served, and it was tempting to feel like I wanted to join everyone else. I felt a bit like an oddball. A common reaction I get from folks is, "gay, Mormon? why care about a glass of wine? are you crazy? etc." I wavered for a moment mentally; and I know, personally, that I wavered in a way I'm sure I would not have, if there hadn't been that doubt gnawing at the back of my head: "Oh, it doesn't matter. You're not a member anyway. It's not like you can be more excommunicated."
I know better than that, of course. While I don't condemn others' decision to drink -- I really, really don't! I simply recognize that their commitments are different from mine, that's all!! -- I know that my decision not to drink is an important symbol, and important statement of faith. The fact that it can come from within is a powerful thing. So I don't regret that I am placed in this situation. It allows me to grow in incredible ways!
At the same time, we need the Church precisely because human beings have weaknesses, faults and failings! Having the structure of public, outward ceremonies and commitments is a good thing. It helps us in the struggle with temptation. I am denied those public, outward ceremonies and commitments. Worthiness interviews, taking the Sacrament on Sunday morning, having and using a temple recommend, all important aids to faithful living that I am denied.
We should all eventually grow to a place in our faith where we don't need outward observances. If I understand anything about the Gospel, it is that the fullness of the higher law doesn't require these things. But to say that I don't need those things would be to assume that I've reached a state of perfection I simply haven't. I want and need those things.
Being a member of the Church means we publicly covenant to bear one another's burdens. Fortunately, my bishops over the past six years have decided that there was no reason I couldn't have a home teacher. So I've had a number of home teachers over the years; and I am grateful for the service they render me. But I want to be a home teacher. I want to give, I don't want just to receive. I have been blessed by the testimonies of others on Sunday morning. I want to be able to share my testimony. I have been blessed by what I've learned from teachers in Priesthood and Sunday School lessons. I want to be able to teach!
I can and do take advantage of opportunities for service -- occasionally participating in Church cleanings, helping ward members to move, volunteering in service projects (such as the flood relief that Göran and Glen and I all volunteered for under Church auspices a few years ago). I love these opportunities for service -- they make me feel good.
Though it hurts sometimes too. Sometimes I feel so incredibly lonely. I wept the last time I helped clean the Church. I was one of two people who had shown up, and I was vacuuming the hallway outside the sanctuary, and I just wept. I don't know how to describe it other than that I felt incredibly alone.
It makes a difference, when our service to one another is publicly acknowledged as part of a framework of covenant and love... Something I am excluded from.
I don't want comments on this post about how faithful I am, blah, blah. That's not the point. I try to be faithful. Sometimes I am not faithful, and I need the blessings that have been divinely prepared for us through the establishment of a Church to help us build and strengthen faith.
The Church is not perfect. If it were, we wouldn't be down here working out our salvation, we would be up in Heaven, with Enoch and his city of perfected Saints. The Second Coming would have been long ago, as Christ would have come to receive his Church as a perfect bride. No we are not there yet.
We are in process of getting there. This is the process: Us making a public commitment to one another to bear one another's burdens and to perfect our faith together. That's what the Church is.
I know I'm not perfect by any measure. Some people think they know exactly how and why I'm not perfect, because I'm "living the homosexual lifestyle." Their judgments may or may not be in accordance with God's... I don't presume to have any final word on whether their judgments are righteous; though I know the scriptures have reserved some pretty harsh words for those who do judge unrighteously and who withhold forgiveness. We all need to be careful on that score. Even if unrighteous judgments are made, well, that's to be expected among people still perfecting themselves! If we're blessed enough to see and understand that, well, we're doubly blessed!
Perhaps the greatest gift of the Spirit is to receive that gift of knowledge: that it's OK if we've often failed one another. The point is to get back up and keep trying. Every time I watch the film Finding Nemo, I weep when Dory (played by lesbian comedian Ellen Degeneres!) sings, over and over again, "Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!" That more or less summarizes our obligation as disciples of Christ. Don't get distracted by the difficulty of the task. Don't get distracted by other's failings, or your own. You just keep trying to do what you know you need to do.
I want to be part of the process of perfecting the Church and perfecting myself. In order to do that, I need to make and keep public commitments: both to the Church and to my husband. Right now I am told that I must choose to break/betray/deny one in order to honor the other. But I know that the path to Zion does not lie through betrayal or denial of family or Church. It all needs to -- and I trust some day will -- fit together perfectly, lovingly and harmoniously.
But in the mean time, in this time and place, I am forced to accept cohabitation as the highest form of commitment I can make to the Church.