Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It Is Not Good for Man to Be Alone

I was having a conversation the other day with an individual in the Church whom I respect and admire. We were discussing my status in relation to the Church. I expressed my profound desire to be a member of the Church. I talked about my testimony, how I know that the Church is true, and how I am blessed by that knowledge.

In fact, prior to having this conversation, I had experienced a renewal of my testimony in sacrament meeting. I had been attending church with my friend Mary, who was baptized in January of last year. And throughout the meeting, and as I listened to talks on the subject of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, I felt the Spirit sweetly present. But it was more than just a feeling of perfect peace and joy and anticipation. I had the experience I've had on occasion which is actually sort of indescribable, but can best be described as an experience of light. And the Spirit was there reminding me that the Church is true, God is real, and there is a light and a truth and a power beyond any we can imagine, guiding us in the strait path, and waiting to receive us if we stay in it. And the Spirit was also calming my doubts, and reassuring me that I am in that path, that I need only be patient and carry on.

I told this friend with whom I was conversing of my profound gratitude for my testimony. I told him I regard my testimony as my greatest gift. But after my testimony, the second greatest gift in my life, a gift that is as much from God as my testimony, is my relationship with my husband.

I have also recently, experienced a renewal in my relationship with my husband. I realize that my relationship with my husband is much like my testimony, in that both require nurture and renewal. My testimony represents my relationship with God, in much the same way as my wedding ring and other tokens like the marriage certificate hanging on our bedroom wall represent my relationship with my husband. Göran and I have been working in the past month or so on some aspects of our relationship that needed improving. It's easy for our behavior in our significant relationships to get into a rut, for us to take certain things for granted, when in fact we can't do that at all. And in every relationship, we go through periods, as we do in life in general, when sometimes we just slide along with old habits, thinking that is enough. And then we realize it isn't enough, and we need to strive and try to do better. And Göran helped me to realize recently that some striving was necessary. And as I've made efforts, there's been a renewal of affection and closeness and happiness in our relationship. It's renewed my "testimony" of my relationship, if it's possible to think of it in those terms. I realize that there is a richness and a goodness in my relationship with Göran that is life-giving and sustaining and that God intends for me and Göran. This relationship is a vehicle through which God gives both of us, his sons, blessings that he intends and wants for us.

I explained to the friend with whom I was conversing that I understood the apparent contradiction between these two things -- these two gifts, these two testimonies. I understood that in relation to the yearning I had expressed to be a member of the Church, there were only two possible paths forward, two possible ways for me to become a member of the Church. One would be that I outlive my husband long enough to be readmitted to the Church as a celibate, single person. The second would be that the Church receives a revelation enabling a transformed understanding of gay and lesbian people and our place and role in the family of our Heavenly Father.

This friend acknowledged that such a revelation was possible, but he felt it was extremely unlikely. I could tell by the way he made that statement that he truly could not conceive of a scenario in which the Church would acknowledge and bless a relationship like the relationship between me and my husband. But I also realized that this individual thought of gay and lesbian relationships primarily in sexual terms, as a sort of giving in to sexual temptation. He doesn't have the experience I have of a relationship that is multidimensional, that is about companionship, intimacy, growth, learning and sacrifice. There is a biblical term that perfectly describes what Göran and I are to each other: help meet. There is a biblical principle that explains why, after much soul-searching, I realized that it was not just unnecessary but wrong for me to be required to go through life single. It is not good that man should be alone.

We should not be alone in any sense of that word. We should not be excluded from the communion, from the loving embrace of the Church. When the Church excludes, it fails in the purpose for which God created it. If we have a desire to build the Church and Kingdom of God, we are called to join. And the only question the Church has to ask at that point is: "See, here is water, what doth hinder... to be baptized?" (Acts 8: 36) Nor should we be excluded from the blessings of family, of intimate connection and relationship that are the core of family. Family, with its joys and sorrows, its celebrations and struggles, with all the work and growth it requires of us, goes hand in glove with the communion we are all meant to experience as members of the Church. No one in the Church sees the slightest contradiction between their commitment to their families and their commitment to the Church. The two reinforce each other. They work together.

And that's how I see it too, with my family.

I realize, after six years of "living the gospel," that there is no contradiction. I experience no contradiction. There is perfect, mutually reinforcing harmony between my faith, my love for God, my hope, my love for my partner. It's all the rest of you out there who think there's a problem. You who think I should quit the Church because it has no place for me; you who think I should quit my partner because the Church has no place for us. But that's your problem. It's not my experience.

I love and respect and am grateful for this friend of mine in the Church. We prayed together, and he used his priesthood power to lay his hands on my head and bless me. And I literally could feel the power of the priesthood as he laid his hands on my head, and I wept. So understand my love and my respect.

I think he could not imagine a Church in which my relationship with my husband would be blessed, partly because -- for all his goodness -- he simply doesn't understand my relationship. He thinks of it in terms of sexual temptation. He doesn't understand yet that the sexual aspect of my relationship with Göran is not unlike the sexual aspect of his relationship with his wife, i.e., one element in a multidimensional relationship that plays an important role in a much bigger picture.

In the Church people use the term "same-sex attraction." Usually that really annoys me, because it typically gets used in a way that implies that in relationships like mine, there's nothing but sexual attraction. That distortion of my relationship in that way is necessary to justify the extreme rejection and exclusion of gay relationships. But the principle of attraction -- of sexual attraction -- is a divine principle. I think the idea of sexual attraction is perfectly described by the biblical phrase one flesh. Attraction draws together what God intends to be together. It unifies what was once separated. There's a reason God put this yearning deep inside of us, and made it so powerful that it is, over the long haul, almost impossible to resist. Because without the laws of attraction, there would be only centripetal forces pushing us apart into our own separate, selfish worlds. God needed there to be a centrifugal force drawing us back together, keeping us in tension between our own selfish needs and desires and our hunger for oneness. Out of this tension is born the struggle and growth and miracle of family. It is our attraction that keeps us coming back and trying again, even when things get tough, even when we fail.

I think if we reflect on the reality of relationships like that between me and my husband Göran, it becomes harder and harder to think of such a relationship as at odds with the Gospel. The illusion of irreconcilable contradiction -- along with the assumption of the need for exclusion -- becomes harder and harder to sustain.


MoHoHawaii said...

"Fulfill the measure of your creation" makes more sense than "be ye therefore perfect."

J G-W said...

I like both phrases. :-)

The English word "perfect" comes from the French word parfait, from the verb parfaire, meaning "to complete."

I think of perfection as that state in which all the missing pieces are brought together into a complete whole.

"Be ye therefore perfect" = "Be ye therefore whole, complete."

Andrew S said...

There's a reason God put this yearning deep inside of us, and made it so powerful that it is, over the long haul, almost impossible to resist. Because without the laws of attraction, there would be only centripetal forces pushing us apart into our own separate, selfish worlds. God needed there to be a centrifugal force drawing us back together, keeping us in tension between our own selfish needs and desires and our hunger for oneness. Out of this tension is born the struggle and growth and miracle of family. It is our attraction that keeps us coming back and trying again, even when things get tough, even when we fail.

Just wow.

Matthew said...

I love how you describe laws of attraction - this is so exactly what is necessary for us to return to God's presence. We are commanded to love each other, to be one with each other - over and over again the message of unity, which is Zion. On both the small scale of spousal love, and the larger scale of community and friendship, and to the grandest scale of the human family, God and Christ are trying to get us to be unified so that we can all go home together.

Great post.

alan said...

If, for the sake of argument, you did outlive your husband, I would certainly hope you wouldn't become baptized as a member of a church that would not baptize you prior to becoming a widower. I would hope that you would protest against the continued nonacceptance of your relationship (in part, by remaining a non-member even when you could be baptized) than acquiesce to "membership" on the Church's terms.

The way the Church talks about homosexuality is basically to address young adult males prior to marriage (questions of sexual attraction and "selfishness"). By default, a space is created for older celibates, gay and straight, but there really is no understanding of queer kinship, other than an acknowledgment that outside the Church things are different.

I hope you don't mind me copying and pasting what I've written elsewhere about how I think the future will play out:

I noticed an online discussion among students at BYU about how a child raised by a same-sex couple is not necessarily in a bad position, since it's sociologically proven that gay parents can be good parents, too (and that there's even some benefits to being raised by a same-sex couple). For these BYU students, the "sin" is in the background, and the "family" is in the foreground.

From an anthropological perspective, "sin" that is treated in such a way that the person is excluded from participation in a group (as opposed to simply being reprimanded) is an instance of a behavior that threatens the "whole" in some fashion. At some point, it may be the case that the homosexual "sin" officially stops being treated as a special category of sin, that homosexual intimacy stops being perceived as such a terrible threat and gay families are perceived as affirming Mormon theology more than threatening to it.

In such an environment, where gay families are welcome at church as a policy of good neighborliness, (notwithstanding concerns of "tolerance leading to acceptance"), questions about the theology of "gender” will arise organically.

How the Church will backtrack or nuance its doctrines is unclear, although I'm sure you caught that recent Dialogue article that attempts to do this work.

J G-W said...

Alan - In the best of circumstances, I am forced to give up at least one of the things I consider essential to live as a whole human being: EITHER my family OR my church. Now you are suggesting that if, through the vicissitudes of life, I am denied my partner, I should have NEITHER? That makes not the least bit of sense to me.

In any event, I've committed to live my life by the promptings of the Spirit. So I can't unequivocally say what I would do if my partner died.

But I can say that I believe the Church is both true and imperfect. And I believe that we individually are also imperfect, but with great potential. And I believe that the path to perfection is commitment... We make commitments and covenants with God and with one another, and in the process we learn and grow. So I fundamentally trust that both I and the Church stand a much greater chance of becoming more perfect if I commit to it and join it, if the circumstances allow, than if I sit it out and protest it because it's not perfect. Again, that doesn't make any sense to me.

If it did make any sense to me, I certainly wouldn't be in the path I'm currently on, attending Church and seeking to apply the principles of the Gospel the best I can under the very imperfect circumstances I live under.

alan said...

I was under the impression that you are not currently "giving up your Church," but are very actively a Mormon, regardless of your membership status.

Personally, if I were in your position, and my partner died, and I became a member, every time I took the Sacrament, I would think about how the only reason I could is because of my partner's death, as per the Church's messed-up policy. Hence, I would never become a member until that policy changed, as I would think of it as disservice to the memory of my husband. (I'm very curious what Göran's position on this is.)

In terms of the Church becoming potentially "more perfect" when you join it, rather than protest it because it's "imperfect," well, that's saying a lot about how influential you see the position of your own personal membership. The Church has always changed due to inside and outside pressures. For example, if the Church is really God's Church, then I argue that on the issue of homosexuality, God is far more pleased with what is occurring at the secular state (legalization of gay marriage), than what is happening in His own Church. Thus, on the issue of homosexuality, the position of an outsider protesting would have at least as much influence to make the church "more perfect" than infiltration on the Church's terms.

J G-W said...

Alan - Maybe you overestimate how influential my own non-membership would be.

But that's neither here nor there, because I want to be a member of the Church not because I want to see the Church change, but because I believe the Church is true and because I want to be baptized and have the gift of the Holy Ghost. I want to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Good things happen when we exercise faith. For me, this is an act of faith.

My husband knows how I feel about this, and, oddly or not, he supports me in it. Maybe it's because he likes the idea that under those circumstances there wouldn't be another guy in my life after him.

I anticipate being with my husband in the next life. He's the only one I'd want to be with in the next life. And I think that if we do everything we can in this life, we will be blessed not only in this life but the next...

I don't know what more to say than that.

alan said...

So you don't think you currently have the gift of the Holy Ghost?

J G-W said...

Alan - I definitely experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. But as I'm sure you're aware, there's a difference between that and having the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

I have received numerous assurances from the Spirit that as long as I live my life in harmony with its promptings, I will continue to have the Spirit in my life. Among the things the Spirit has prompted me to do has been to live as many gospel principles as I can -- to attend Church, follow the Word of Wisdom, study the scriptures daily, etc.

The Spirit has also made clear to me that even though I am not able to be a baptized member of the Church, I will not be left without the guidance and comfort of the Spirit, so long as I do everything within my ability to stay close to the Spirit. Since I don't currently have the option to be baptized, I'm not held accountable for that.

However, if I had the option of being baptized (such as would be the situation if my partner passed away), then I'm not sure I would be able to keep the Spirit in my life if I refused to be baptized.

As I've said, I'm not currently in that situation, so I don't know. If/when I have to face that situation, then I would make my membership status the subject of prayer and fasting to discern where I should go at that point.

alan said...

Actually, it is unclear to me what the difference is between the presence of the Spirit in one's life as a constant companion, and the consequence of the "Gift of the Holy Ghost."

My understanding (after some reading) is the Holy Ghost often brings people to the Church by providing an initial boost of persuasion, but is thought to ultimately leave people unless they choose to become members. If they do become members, get baptized and receive the "Gift of the Holy Ghost," then the Spirit sticks with people as a constant companion (if they maintain their covenants, live the gospel, etc).

In your case, the Spirit is making an exception and sticking around because of how you can't become a member, but so adamantly believe the Church is true.

This raises a question for me about what more the Gift of the Holy Ghost would provide you, if the Spirit has no intention of leaving you currently. Would you receive mere assurance that the Spirit will not leave you (after having been with you for so many years)? That would seem not as profound as what you already have: an assurance the Spirit will stick around.

J G-W said...

I admit, the LDS doctrine distinguishing between the "Gift of the Holy Ghost" and the "Power of the Holy Ghost" seems rather fine.

Mormons admit that the Spirit is at work among people of all faiths and in many different religious communities. And the way they typically explain the "Gift of the Holy Ghost" makes it sound like Mormons get to have the Holy Ghost permanently, while other people get it only temporarily or on loan until they become full members of the LDS Church.

Yet, in practice, I note that many active members of the Church frequently go through life without experiencing the presence and activity of the Spirit on a regular basis, while many outside the Church do. And Latter-day Saints will typically explain that the Spirit will be present in our lives to the extent we are attentive and worthy. So it seems that many Mormons don't experience the presence of the Spirit and many non-Mormons do, and so the distinction between the "Gift" of the Holy Ghost and the "Power" of the Holy Ghost seems somewhat meaningless.

However, I think there is still a meaningful distinction. I think of "Gift" of the Holy Ghost as analogous to marriage. Two people can live very faithfully together without the benefit of marriage as "common law" partners; and they can experience all the intimacy and emotional benefits of marriage without actually being married. Similarly, two people can be married, but not invest a lot emotionally in their relationship; they could be unfaithful to each other; and thus be married in name, but not really enjoying a fullness in their relationship.

Still, I can say that the distinction of actually being married is meaningful. It's one reason I am working so hard for marriage equality in my home state.

My sister recounted to me an argument she had with my parents over the fact that she was living with her boyfriend without the benefit of marriage. My sister had tried to use me and Göran as an example, but my parents had scolded her and told her that Göran and I would be married if we could. She didn't have the same excuse, and so they wouldn't make the same allowance for her they made for us. (She is, by the way, getting ready to marry her boyfriend.)

In my case, I can neither be legally married nor be baptized a member of the Church I believe in. Both are affirmations of my humanity, and the humanity of my relationship with my husband. I know I am worthy of them; that's not a question in my mind.

But to enter into both is also a sign of commitment. I receive a dispensation from God that is permitted me only as long as I am in the extraordinary situation that these affirmations of my humanity are denied me. If they were open to me and I refused them, it would be a statement about my degree of commitment to my faith and to my husband...

alan said...

Okay, well, that ties up all the loose ends. Thx. =p

J G-W said...

I'm glad I was able to answer all your questions to your satisfaction. :-)

Taryn said...

I hope the LDS church learns to be more accepting of people like you, who receive your own personal revelation and act on your conscience.

I've personally found the ex-mormon community to be nearly as hostile as the church towards people who claim such experiences when they go against orthodoxy.

It sounds like you anticipated that backlash, and are trying to explain your needs to others in such a way that they'll understand. I wish either side had listened to me when I did. Sometimes I keep trying.

Anonymous said...

usually I don't get into the "theology/exegesis/philosophy" thing, but the "be ye therefore whole, complete," really connected with me.

J G-W said...

Taryn - I don't see how it is possible to be any kind of a believer without relying on our own direct, personal connection to our Heavenly Father. It is our birthright as children of God.

I don't detect hostility so much as skepticism. It is OK -- admirable even -- to be skeptical. Paul said, "Test all things." The truth will out. So I think we should question, seek our own answers by every means available to us. As long as we are open to whatever we find, things will work out.

Santorio - I'm glad that's helpful to you... It's helpful to me!

Anonymous said...

Sexual sin will keep you from your Heavenly Father. You know it but have somehow convinced yourself.

J G-W said...

Anonymous - why are you so scared?

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)